BEIRUT: Once celebrated as a financial wizard, Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh is spending his final weeks in office a wanted man, faced with French and German arrest warrants that have been prompted by long-running corruption probes.
The warrants are the latest twist in cross-border investigations into whether Salameh, the governor for three decades whose term ends in July, abused his post to embezzle a fortune in Lebanese public money. He denies any wrongdoing.
The cases have further shredded a legacy already in tatters after the collapse of Lebanon’s financial system in 2019, a catastrophe many blame on Salameh and Lebanon’s ruling elite.
It has shone a spotlight on 72-year-old Salameh’s ties to ruling politicians, whose backing for him has only started to fray in recent months as European investigations progressed.
Interpol has issued a Red Notice and uploaded his picture on its website. France has declared him a wanted man.
Some Lebanese ministers and leading politicians now say he must quit, although others have remained silent, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Salameh, who has long described the accusations as an attempt to scapegoat him for Lebanon’s meltdown, has shown no sign of stepping down early.
“My conscience is clear. I know these accusations are incorrect,” he told Al Hadath TV last week, adding that he would leave office if a court ruled against him.
Many Lebanese for years viewed Salameh, who took up his post in 1993 after a career at Merrill Lynch, as the linchpin of a financial system that afforded them a standard of living that was incongruous with Lebanon’s frail economy.
But in 2019 Lebanon’s economic system crashed under the weight of state corruption and profligate spending by ruling factions, and many Lebanese have heaped blame on Salameh for the country’s collapsing currency and crippled banking system.
It is a dramatic reversal for a man once feted for steering Lebanon through the global financial crisis and who was a prominent speaker at international banking conferences.
Published in Dawn, May 27TH, 2023
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