Activists Ask for Probe into 3 Swiss Banks over Lebanon Central Banker
Seven activist groups requested that Switzerland’s financial watchdog, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), launch an investigation into the relationship between three Swiss banks and Lebanon’s central bank governor, according to The National.
Riad Salame, 71, has frequently found himself at the center of various investigations into money laundering charges, both by Lebanon as well as no less than five European countries, including the U.K., Belgium, and Germany.
The latest complaint came after an international group of journalists released an investigation that exposed Credit Suisse’s shady business practices. The revelations opened a discussion about Switzerland’s bank secrecy laws and the ethics of its banks.
The issue has brought up again Salame’s alleged illicit activities. The seven activist groups from Switzerland and Lebanon have raised concerns that the three banks have conspired to help the central bank governor launder embezzled funds.
Specifically, they have petitioned FINMA to investigate whether the banks have facilitated the misappropriation of millions of dollars from the Lebanese people.
“What we are looking for is to find out how and why these banks continue to provide havens for the corrupt and we think this is very important for the Lebanese but also for the reputation of Switzerland,” Accountability Now attorney Zina Wakim, told OCCRP’s local media partner Daraj.
“All three banks appear to have breached their anti-money laundering obligations when assisting Mr. Salame and his entourage to shelter funds which appear to be ill-gotten and derived from corruption,” Wakim added.
As Switzerland’s government body mandated with enforcing the country’s financial regulations, FINMA answers only to parliament and is authorized to open investigations, sanction banks, revoke their licences, and submit their casework to the prosecutor's office if need be.
“We can confirm that we have been or are in contact with relevant banks in the Lebanon context and that compliance with AML [anti-money laundering] due diligence requirements plays an important role in our supervisory activities,” FINMA spokesperson Tobias Lux told The National.
Salame has been the subject of such investigations for several years now.
In August 2020, he, his assistant, and his brother, Raja Salame, were central to OCCRP’s Lebanon’s Offshore Governor investigation, which exposed how the family managed to quietly invest nearly US$100 in overseas real estate markets.
The governor has, in the past, responded to such accusations as “fabrications and false news,” and has threatened those who report on his alleged misdeeds with the possibility of litigation.
Furthermore, he has resolved to impede the investigation by refusing to speak with Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun. The reason for which, according to The National, is that he believes her to be openly hostile with him.
When Aoun sent officers to detain Salame for questioning a few weeks ago, he managed to slip under their radar and evade capture.
Reportedly, despite the authorities’ inability to locate him, he told the Financial Times a few days later that “I’m in my house and the central bank.”