The Lebanese official heading talks with the International Monetary Fund to bailout Lebanon’s tanking economy called Thursday for the country’s embattled central bank chief to resign, amid allegations of corruption and an international arrest warrant issued against him.
Lebanon’s caretaker deputy prime minister, Saade Chami, told The Associated Press in an interview that the allegations against Riad Salameh put the government’s credibility at risk and “could threaten the country’s financial relations with the rest of the world,” including with the IMF and other global financial institutions.
Chami is the highest-ranking Lebanese official to call for Salameh’s resignation to date.
Salameh, 72, has held his post for almost 30 years. A European-led investigation into his personal wealth stashed abroad has raised questions about his tenure at the central bank and wider issues of corruption in Lebanon’s financial and political system.
A spokesperson for Salameh, who has denied allegations of corruption and mismanagement, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chami said that although Salameh is innocent until proven guilty, “it is not possible nor acceptable for anyone who is accused of multiple alleged financial crimes in several countries to continue to exercise his powers” as central bank head.
The charges against Salameh “are reputational risks” and “will necessarily be a distraction” for a central bank office that is “entrusted with the stability of the financial system,” he said.
Salameh’s term comes to an end in July, and he has said previously he would not seek to extend it.
Since Salameh’s remaining time in office is relatively short, rather than recusing himself during any ongoing investigations, “it would be better for him to resign, and if not, the government needs to take a decision,” the deputy prime minister added.
A French investigative judge Tuesday issued an international arrest warrant for Salameh after he didn’t show up for questioning in France on corruption charges.
A European judicial team from France, Germany and Luxembourg has been conducting a corruption investigation into an array of financial crimes they allege were committed by Salameh, his associates and others.
The allegations include illicit enrichment and laundering of $330 million.
Salameh has repeatedly denied all allegations against him and insisted that his wealth comes from his previous job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments.
In a statement earlier this week, he accused the French investigation and judicial process of “double standards” and of leaking confidential information to the media.
He vowed to appeal the arrest warrant.Charbel Abu Samra, the Lebanese judge overseeing a separate local case against Salameh, said Thursday that the Interpol office in Lebanon had not yet received the arrest warrant. Once it does, he said, “the judiciary will deal with it as required by law and sovereignty.”