While Lebanon is plunged into unprecedented political and economic crises, and with the horizon of forming the government of Saad Hariri, who was appointed for more than 3 months, following the intensification of his differences with the team of President Michel Aoun, the so-called “looted funds” file returned to the fore.
For the first time after the outbreak of the banking crisis in Lebanon since the fall of 2019, the spotlight officially shone on the Governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, after the caretaker Minister of Justice Marie-Claude Najm received last week a request for cooperation from the Swiss authorities regarding the provision of legal aid regarding the file of financial transfers related to Salameh, The investigations include his brother Raja Salameh and his assistant, Marian Al-Hawaik.
On January 21, a meeting took place between Salameh and the discriminatory public prosecutor in Lebanon, Ghassan Oweidat, to inform him of the contents of the Swiss request, and Salameh announced his readiness to appear before the Swiss judiciary to provide his evidence on the file.
Observers believe that the essence of the Swiss request is to verify the suspicion of transferring money in favor of Salameh, especially since it came to the names of those close to him, that is, his brother and his assistant.
Despite the Lebanese consensus on the slogan of “recovering the stolen funds,” the issue of Salameh took on political dimensions, especially since he had held his position since 1993 with the support of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and his renewal continued throughout these years.
The deputy in the Swiss Parliament, Fabian Molina, indicated in statements to the Lebanese media that the total “funds that arrived from Lebanon to Switzerland after 2016 exceeded two billion dollars.”
However, after the scandal of smuggling money from Lebanese banks abroad occurred between October 2019 and January 2020, some estimates suggested that the sums transferred from Lebanon to Swiss financial institutions approached about $ 2.3 billion.
Salama issued a statement yesterday, Monday, in which he accused the leakers of the circulating figures, which amounted to about $ 350 million, of seeking to “hit the image of the Central Bank and its governor,” and described it as exaggerated, while it was remarkable that the Lebanese MP Jamil Al-Sayed submitted an official request to Judge Oweidat to include him as a “voluntary witness before the court.” The Swiss exclusively “, and that he is ready to provide information” facts related to the work of the Central Bank of Lebanon. “
Track the safety case
The constitutional and legal expert, Saeed Malik, proceeds from the principles of the work of the Swiss Public Prosecution, considering that the Swiss judiciary is professional, and until he reaches the referral means that there is an integrated file that is nothing wrong with it.
He says that describing the safety of the volume of funds in circulation as “exaggerated” “implies an implicit recognition of the matter and the availability of conditions, but his disagreement is over determining the value of the amounts, and the Swiss judiciary looks at evidence for conviction or acquittal, so it will have the final word in this dispute.”
Malik believes – in his speech to Al Jazeera Net – that Salameh was able to accept the authority of the Lebanese judiciary, but he chose to appear before the Swiss courts, and therefore he should assign a law firm to defend him there.
In the event that the Public Prosecution Office of Cassation finds that the evidence is sufficient to prosecute Salameh, it will refer him to trial, but if it is insufficient, it will save the file.
The expert points out that, in accordance with the general legal principle, the accused is not punished for the act twice, that is, there can be no case against Salameh in Switzerland and another in Lebanon, and it is expected that the course of investigations in Switzerland will take months.
The issue is politicized
The prosecution of Salameh has become – according to analysts – a political pawn between those who are responsible for the financial collapse, and at the forefront of them is the Presidential team that pushes for Salameh to be held accountable as part of what is called “political freedom”, and other forces who consider that there are those who seek to exploit Salameh’s case by leaking data To the Swiss judiciary, with the aim of settling accounts with his supporters and implicating them with him.
In turn, lawyer Wadih Akl, a member of the political bureau in the Free Patriotic Movement (headed by Gebran Bassil), considers that “there are strong suspicions against Salameh, because he did not declare his money in foreign banks in his personal capacity, which means that he is accused of the crime of concealing his identity.”
Akl reminds – via Al-Jazeera Net – that Salameh is the head of the Special Investigation Commission in Lebanon, which is entrusted with combating money laundering in accordance with Law 44/2015, and it is unacceptable for Salameh to remain in this position after suspicion.
However, political analyst Assad Bishara believes that the investigations with Salameh must come out of political calculations, and that the accountability process should take place in all directions.
Bishara accuses Aoun’s political team of the parade by throwing responsibility on others, while it has been in power since 2008, and has taken over the ministries that have witnessed waste and corruption, chiefly the Ministry of Energy.
Bishara recalls that Aoun’s era, which began in 2016, renewed Salameh to remain in office with the consensus of all political parties, including Hezbollah, which means that all the political class is involved with him.
But Wadih Akl considers that Salama’s renewal was governed by the conditions of 2017, “because it gave assurances to the covenant that the Lebanese pound was fine, which means that Salama practiced fraud against the Lebanese.”
On the other hand, for more than a year, civil activists raised slogans refusing to reduce the investigations safely, and demanding accountability for the pillars of the political system that plunged the country into bankruptcy.
They are calling for the Swiss or Lebanese judiciary to expand the investigation department to include the various pillars of the financial and political authority that succeeded in ruling from the nineties until the era of Michel Aoun.
Over the years, it was promoted in Lebanon that Riad Salameh had Western cover – and especially America – from which he drew his influence at the head of the Banque du Liban governance, and here a question arises: Is the time to lift this cover from him?
The writer and political analyst Hussein Ayoub considers that Salameh is no longer a “sacred address” in the Western climate, and what defines the international position on his file is his “alternative.”
He added that if Salama’s alternative is subject to the choice of Michel Aoun and his political team, then the international community will prefer Salameh to remain, but if Salama’s overthrow takes power to his first deputy, Wassim Mansouri (from the Shiite community), the international community will not prefer his departure as well, so the elements of Salame’s weakness may turn into elements of his strength. According to Ayoub, Al-Jazeera Net.
Ayoub returns to the French initiative, specifically to President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Beirut after the port explosion in August 2020, “and the name of the French candidate for the Governance of the Banque du Liban, Samir Assaf, who is one of the international bankers, was promoted and was an indication of international dissatisfaction with his safety.”
As for the main international element, “is the American position on the issue of Salameh, especially since it has formed over the years the pillar of positive treatment of the Lebanese file with the American system.”
Ayoub believes that the change in the international climate towards Salameh threatens the political forces due to the interconnectedness between the two financial and political systems, and any attempt to touch one of the two directions will affect the other, especially since Salameh used to finance the process of spending the political power in elections and to secure its various interests.
On the other hand, Salameh’s interrogation request moves Lebanon to a stage that distorts the reputation of its banking sector abroad, and the most dangerous thing in the case – according to Ayoub – is that it developed from accusing banks of tampering with depositors’ money to suspicions that directly affect the central ruler, which means that the restoration of Lebanon’s banking reputation in the next stage will be A daunting task.