Lebanon’s central bank chief expected to be no-show in Paris court

Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh speaks during a news conference at central bank in Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 15 May 2023
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Lebanon’s central bank chief expected to be no-show in Paris court

  • It is thought he was summoned to face charges of accumulating a fortune in European accounts through the embezzlement of Lebanese public funds
  • The European investigation focuses on the relationship between the central bank and Forry Associates, a company owned by Salameh’s brother, Raja

BEIRUT: Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon’s central bank, Banque du Liban, is not expected to appear as scheduled before a European financial investigation at a Paris court on Tuesday.

He was summoned by French Judge Aude Buresi two weeks ago. It is thought the session was scheduled to bring charges against Salameh over allegations that he accumulated a fortune in European accounts, including cash and real estate, through a complex system of financial arrangements and the embezzlement of large amounts of Lebanese public funds.

The European investigation, involving France, Germany and Luxembourg, focuses on the relationship between the central bank and Forry Associates, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, with an office in Beirut, that is owned by the governor’s brother, Raja Salameh.

It is alleged it is a shell company used to transfer money out of Lebanon to European banks. It is suspected that more than $330 million was embezzled from the central bank through a grant contract with the company, in addition to illegal commissions from local Lebanese banks.

Officials at Mina El-Hosn police station in Beirut — the local law enforcement authority responsible for notifying Salameh he has been summoned by the judge in Paris — told the Lebanese judiciary that officers visited the central bank three times but the governor was not in his office.

A Lebanese judicial source told Arab News on Monday: “The acting first investigating judge in Beirut, Charbel Abou Samra, responded four days ago to the French request to notify Salameh through the Lebanese judiciary, informing the French judiciary that Salameh could not be found and notified within the deadline.”

The Lebanese judiciary carried out a French judicial request but has no other input or say in any actions French legal authorities might take, the source said, adding: “According to the European-Lebanese judicial cooperation, Lebanon may witness more judicial requests with which it will cooperate as it has done before.”

When Salameh was questioned in Beirut in mid-March by a European judicial delegation, led by Judge Buresi, he appeared as a witness at that time.

“(He) was not interrogated as a suspect in the Palace of Justice in Beirut, as foreign judiciaries are not authorized to accuse anyone on Lebanese soil. This can only be done on the territory of the country investigating the case,” the source explained.

The European judicial delegation questioned a number of other witnesses in Beirut during two rounds of investigations, including caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, bankers, current and former officials from the central bank, and auditors of the bank’s accounts.

They also spoke with Raja Salameh during a session that lasted more than six hours, and with Marianne Hoayek, who is Riad Salameh’s assistant.

Judge Abou Samra has not imposed a travel ban on Riad Salameh, despite local investigations into allegations of his involvement in embezzlement, money laundering, forgery, counterfeiting and tax evasion. The judicial source confirmed that the judge set May 18 as the date on which the Salameh brothers and Hoayek are to appear before him, and the summons remains in force.

“Salameh is considered to be notified of this date through his legal representative, who has previously filed pleadings on his behalf,” the source added.

Investigations conducted by Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun into Salameh and the activities at the central bank initially included a travel ban.

“However, Judge Aoun later revoked the decision,” the source added.

Salameh’s position as governor does not grant him any legal immunity. The 72-year-old has been governor of the central bank for more than 30 years. His current term ends in July and he has indicated that he will not seek another.

A constitutional, legal and political debate continues regarding the appointment of a new governor given the political paralysis in Lebanon. A caretaker government remains in charge, with limited powers, and the office of president has been vacant since Michel Aoun’s term ended in October.

Members of the Forces of Change in Lebanon, a bloc of new MPs elected a year ago, hold Salameh responsible for the collapse of the Lebanese currency, which has lost more than 90 percent of its value since 2019, and the unprecedented economic crisis that continues to grip the country. They also accuse successive governments of corruption.


Israeli strikes target Lebanon’s Baalbek for first time since Gaza war

Updated 26 February 2024
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Israeli strikes target Lebanon’s Baalbek for first time since Gaza war

  • The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago
  • Israel’s air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks

BEIRUT: The Israeli military said Monday its air force was striking targets of the militant Hebollah group “deep inside Lebanon,” where residents reported explosions near the northeastern city of Baalbek.
The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago. They come a day after Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to step up attacks on Lebanon’s Hezbollah even if a cease-fire is reached with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Lebanese security officials said Israel’s air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks. Buday is a Hezbollah stronghold. There was no immediate word on casualties.
A Hezbollah official confirmed that three strikes hit near Baalbek. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The Israeli army said further details will follow.
The airstrikes near Baalbek came hours after Hezbollah said its fighters on Monday shot down an Israeli drone over its stronghold in a province in southern Lebanon. Anotehr missile fired by Hezbollah toward the drone was intercepted by Israel, and landed near a synagogue in a town close to Nazareth in northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage.
Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israeli troops along the border since the Israel-Hamas broke on Oct. 7.
The strike on Baalbek, because of its location deep inside Lebanon, is the most significant one since the early January airstrike on Beirut that killed top Hamas official Saleh Arouri.
Hezbollah, which has been exchanging fire with Israel throughout the war in Gaza, has said it will halt its nearly daily attacks on Israel if a cease-fire is reached in Gaza.


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

  • Move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up Palestinian Authority
  • Shtayyeh says he is resigning to allow broader consensus among Palestinians following Israel’s war on Gaza

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


UAE floating hospital begins operations at Al-Arish to treat Palestinian patients

Updated 26 February 2024
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UAE floating hospital begins operations at Al-Arish to treat Palestinian patients

AL-ARISH: A floating hospital provided by the UAE, anchored in Egypt’s Port city of Al-Arish, commenced operations on Sunday to provide treatment for injured Palestinians.

The initiative is a part of the UAE’s “Gallant Knight 3” humanitarian operation.

The 100-bed hospital has operating rooms, an intensive care unit, radiology section, laboratory and pharmacy, state news agency WAM reported.

A 20-year-old Palestinian man was the first to undergo surgery at the hospital. He was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and injuries caused by shrapnel.

Doctors repositioned his shoulder, and he will require a follow-up operation to repair nerve damage.

The floating hospital was established in cooperation with the Department of Health - Abu Dhabi and AD Ports Group. It is being staffed by 100 medical workers who are skilled in anesthesia, general surgery, orthopedics, and emergency medicine.

Dr. Falah Al-Mahmoud, director of the hospital, said the facility would help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians.

Dr. Falah Al-Mahmoud, director of the hospital, said the facility would help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. (WAM)

 


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

  • Palestinian PM says ‘new political measures’ needed amid Gaza war
  • The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


Yemen’s Houthis announce first civilian death in US-UK strikes

Updated 26 February 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis announce first civilian death in US-UK strikes

  • One person was killed and eight wounded a day after US and British forces said they fired on 18 targets
SANAA: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia have reported the first civilian death in US and British air strikes after the latest round of joint raids over the weekend.
One person was killed and eight wounded, the Houthis’ official news agency said late on Sunday, a day after US and British forces said they fired on 18 targets across the country.
The US-British strikes were in response to dozens of Houthi drone and missile attacks on Red Sea shipping since November, which the rebels say are in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.
“The American-British aggression on the district of Maqbana in the governorate of Taiz has left one civilian dead and eight wounded,” the Houthis’ Saba agency said, citing a statement from the rebel-run health ministry.
The Houthis, who control war-torn Yemen’s most populated areas, have previously reported the death of 17 of their fighters in the Western strikes targeting military facilities.
The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea route, forcing some companies into a two-week detour around southern Africa. Last week, Egypt said Suez Canal revenues were down by up to 50 percent this year.
Washington, Israel’s vital ally, gathered an international coalition in December to protect Red Sea traffic. It has launched several rounds of strikes as well as four joint raids with Britain, which began last month.
The Houthis initially said they were targeting Israel-linked shipping in the Red Sea and adjoining Gulf of Aden, but then declared that US and British interests were also “legitimate” targets.