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France seeks arrest of Lebanon central bank chief

Prosecutors issue international arrest warrant for Riad Salameh after he failed to show up to fraud and money laundering hearing in Paris
Lebanon's Central Bank chief Riad Salameh during a studio photo session in the capital Beirut, on 20 December 2021 (AFP)
Lebanon's Central Bank chief Riad Salameh during a studio photo session in Beirut, on 20 December 2021 (AFP)

French prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Lebanese Central Bank governor Riad Salameh on Tuesday, according to sources close to the case. 

Earlier in the day, Salameh failed to show up to a hearing in Paris where an investigative magistrate was expected to indict him over preliminary fraud and money laundering charges. 

The investigators suspect the 72-year-old, who has been Lebanon's central bank chief for three decades, of misusing public funds and using fraudulent financial systems to amass a network of assets across Europe. 

His lawyer told Reuters he did not show up to the summons because they were sent to him too close to the day of the hearing. Instead of issuing a fresh summons, the prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant, sources said. 

"By having notified the summons less than 10 days before the scheduled date of the interrogation, the rules were not respected," lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sur told Reuters. "The summons is therefore null and void."

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Salameh says the warrant was a violation of law and the decision was taken based on "double standards" and "presumptuous ideas". He added that he would appeal it. 

Sources familiar with his travel plans said he remains in Beirut.

The bank chief is being investigated in Lebanon, as well as five European countries, over allegations of embezzlement. He rejects the accusations.

Defence attorneys for Salameh and his assistant sent an objection to the Lebanese judiciary over the French case, sources told Reuters, on the basis that France was attempting to try a case already under investigation in Lebanon.

Lebanon has been mired in a devastating economic crisis since 2019, when the financial system collapsed under the weight of decades of state corruption, waste and mismanagement, paralysing the banking system.

Salemeh is widely blamed for policies that contributed to Lebanon’s financial collapse.

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