Lebanese central bank chief wants judge removed from probe

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview in Beirut
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for Reuters Next conference, in Beirut, Lebanon November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

January 13, 2022

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanon’s central bank governor said on Thursday a judge leading one of several investigations against him was biased and should be removed from the case, after she imposed a travel ban on him this week.

Riad Salameh, who denies any wrongdoing during almost three decades leading the central bank, is being probed in Lebanon and at least four European countries, with his role under close scrutiny since Lebanon’s economic collapse in 2019.

Judge Ghada Aoun, who is heading one of the Lebanese probes, imposed a travel ban on Salameh on Thursday. A judicial source said her investigation covered allegations ranging from fraud to abuse of public funds.

In a statement, Salameh said he had showed respect for the judiciary by previously appearing before judges and said the aim of the lawsuits against him was to “distort my image before public opinion in Lebanon and abroad.”

Salameh, who has support from several top politicians, said Aoun had used her personal Twitter account in a “hostile way” against him. He also criticised other aspects of her handling of the case.

“According to the simplest legal rules, it is not possible for a judge to be adversary and arbiter at the same time,” he said in the statement in which he said he had submitted a request to have Aoun removed from the case.

In comments carried by Lebanon’s national news agency, Aoun dismissed Salameh’s criticisms, including saying she had only used Twitter to list cases against the governor. She said it was the public’s right to know about important ongoing cases.

The governor has stayed in his post even as the economy has been crushed by huge debts, the currency has collapsed and many Lebanese have been driven into poverty.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Writing by Alaa Swilam and Edmund Blair; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)