U.S., U.K., Canada Sanction Lebanon’s Ex-Central Bank Governor

Published: 11 August 2023

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

By Lara Dihmis

The U.S., U.K., and Canada imposed sanctions on Thursday against Lebanon’s former central bank governor, Riad Salame, and three of his associates for embezzling US$300 million from the central bank during his tenure.

This decision comes over a week after Salame, facing an Interpol arrest warrant and multiple allegations of corruption and embezzlement in Lebanon and across Europe, stepped down after 30 years at the head of the central bank.

France, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Luxembourg are among several European countries investigating Salame and his associates for their role in what the U.K. has called “organized embezzlement operations.”

“Riad Salame and his close associates have stolen from the people of Lebanon and deprived them of resources crucial to its economic and social stability,” the U.K.’s Minister of State for the Middle East said in a statement.

In 2021, a British MP sent a report to the country’s National Crime Agency, outlining how Salame’s assets, companies, and investment vehicles, worth “hundreds of millions of dollars,” were used by him, members of his family, and his associates to divert central bank funds out of Lebanon.

These assets included a 3.5 million pound (US$4.1 million) apartment in central London, which OCCRP and its Lebanese media partner Daraj identified as belonging to Salame’s son. This was one of many assets uncovered exclusively by OCCRP and Daraj in two investigations published in 2020, revealing the extent of Salame’s offshore wealth.

Other findings uncovered by OCCRP and Daraj are outlined in OFAC’s press release announcing the new sanctions, including how he used offshore trusts to conceal his association with a company that bought a stake in his son’s London-based wealth management company, before selling it to a major Lebanese bank that he regulates.

The OFAC statement calls the sale a “conflict of interest as well as a likely violation of a Lebanese law prohibiting employees of the BdL from profiting from other private businesses, enacted to ensure that they devote their attention entirely to safeguarding Lebanon’s economic prosperity.”

“By using his position to enrich himself, his family, and his associates in apparent contravention of Lebanese law, Salame contributed to Lebanon’s endemic corruption and perpetuated the perception that elites in Lebanon need not abide by the same rules that apply to all Lebanese people,” Under Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Brian E. Nelson, said.