France Issues Arrest Warrant Against Lebanese Central Bank Governor

Published: 17 May 2023

Riad Salameh croppedRiad Salame (Photo: MTV Lebanon/Youtube, Wikimedia, License)

By Lara Dihmis

France issued an international arrest warrant against Lebanon's controversial central bank governor, Riad Salame, after he failed on Tuesday to attend his trial for money laundering and embezzlement, according to various media reports.

Salame was scheduled to appear in front of investigators to face questioning regarding the source of his wealth amid claims that he exploited his position as head of the central bank to enrich himself, his relatives, and his associates.

Salame's lawyer reportedly told AFP that the French court's summons was "invalid" due to a lack of prior notice.

Salame has reportedly called the arrest warrant a "violation of the law" that he would appeal.

This is only the latest in a series of developments that have escalated since Switzerland first launched a criminal investigation into Salame and his associates in January 2021. Since then, a number of other European countries, including Liechtenstein, France, Luxembourg, and Germany, have followed suit.

Authorities from these countries have largely coordinated their efforts with Lebanese authorities, with a delegation traveling to Beirut as recently as January in an attempt to advance their probes.

"Salame will not be tried in Beirut; this is almost a settled matter. It may be a trial in absentia if he refuses to comply, but he will not be able to avoid being tried in Europe," a source at the time told OCCRP's local partner Daraj.

OCCRP and Daraj carried out two investigations into the offshore wealth of Salame and his associates in 2020. Both have been cited in a number of the European cases against the governor.

The first OCCRP-Daraj investigation identified companies associated with Salame and his network in the BVI, Liechtenstein, Panama, Malta, Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg, as well as luxury property in the U.K.

The second investigation identified a major conflict of interest, uncovering how a company tied to Salame bought a stake in his son's company, then sold it to a major Lebanese bank that he regulates.