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Lebanon arrests brother of embattled central bank chief

BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanese authorities on Thursday arrested the brother of the country’s embattled central bank governor over suspicion of money laundering and illicit enrichment, the state-run news agency reported.

According to the report by the National News Agency, Ghada Aoun, an investigative judge at Mount Lebanon district court, questioned Raja Salameh for several hours before placing him under arrest. The suit against Salameh was filed by a group of lawyers who accuse him of corruption.

The move comes two months after the same judge imposed a travel ban and froze some assets of the central bank governor, Riad Salameh, 71, who is accused of corruption and dereliction of duties during Lebanon’s unprecedented economic meltdown.

The central bank governor is also being investigated in several European nations, including Switzerland and France, for potential money laundering and embezzlement.

Riad Salameh had steered Lebanese finances for nearly three decades, through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. Once praised as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, he has drawn increasing scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019.

Local media have reported in recent months that the governor, his brother and an aide transferred money abroad despite capital controls imposed at home, a charge the governor has denied.

The judge did not respond to calls by The Associated Press seeking comment. A local station, Al-Jadeed TV, has quoted Aoun as saying that Riad Salameh had used his brother to buy real-estate in France worth nearly USD12 million.

There have been also reports that a brokerage firm, Forry Associates Ltd, owned by Raja Salameh, was hired to handle government bonds sales by the central bank in which the firm received USD330 million in commissions. The governor said last November that “not a single penny of public money” was used to pay for Forry Associates Ltd.

Also on Thursday, Judge Aoun froze the assets of local lender Creditbank, her latest such move against local banks. On Monday, she froze the assets of five of Lebanon’s largest banks and those of their board of directors as she investigates possible transfers of billions of dollars aboard.

Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls since the economic crisis began.

Since then, people do not have full access to their savings and those who withdraw cash from US dollar accounts get an exchange rate far lower than that on the black market.