March 4. 2024. 9:27

The Daily

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Lebanon’s central bank governor facing corruption charges as financial crisis intensifies

Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh on Thursday attended a hearing observed by European judges investigating charges of alleged embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion.

On Wednesday judge Charbel Abou Samra formally accused Mr Salameh, his brother Raja, and an assistant of misappropriating $350 million from the sale of bank assets.

Swiss media have reported that large deposits were made in Raja Salameh’s name in a dozen Swiss banks and that Mr Salameh and his associates have large properties in France.

Mr Salameh faces investigations in Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, which have forced Lebanon’s judiciary to investigate his activities. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and confiscation of his assets in Europe.

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During the hearing, troops surrounded Beirut’s justice palace to discourage demonstrators who have blamed Mr Salameh for precipitating Lebanon’s financial meltdown.

The hearing coincided with the fall of the Lebanese pound to 100,000 to the dollar, the lowest ever rate of exchange on the parallel (black) market, while the bank rate stood at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Last month, Lebanese merchants quoted sale items in dollars to avoid fluctuating exchange rates.

There is a limit placed on bank withdrawals, and 80 per cent of people are estimated to live below the poverty line.

Teachers at public schools have gone on strike for higher pay, claiming they cannot live on one-dollar-an-hour salaries. Before the strike, more than 700,000 children were out of school; 500,000 have joined them since the strike, according to Unicef.

Householders have cancelled contracts with Lebanon’s electricity company as power is expensive and rarely provided. Families who can afford to access electricity from building or neighbourhood generators face constant cost increases due to fuel shortages.

In a report entitled Cut Off from Life Itself, Human Rights Watch has argued that an “adequate standard of living includes the right of everyone, without discrimination, to sufficient, reliable, safe, clean, accessible, and affordable electricity”. This ensures rights to “health, housing, water, and education, and should be recognised as a distinct human right”.

Human Rights Watch criticised the Lebanese authorities for failing for 30 years to “properly manage the state-run electricity company [thereby denying the population] an adequate standard of living.”

The French foreign ministry has discussed with allies the imposition of sanctions on Lebanese legislators who block parliamentary efforts to elect a president who can appoint a fully empowered government to enact reforms required to access rescue funding.

Lebanon has had no president since November when Michel Aoun retired. A caretaker government under premier Najib Mikati has been in place since May.