European investigators to visit Lebanon in Salameh graft probe - sources

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview in Beirut

By Timour Azhari

BEIRUT (Reuters) - European investigators will visit Lebanon in January as part of a cross-border probe into alleged fraud by Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh to the detriment of the Lebanese state, three judicial sources said.

French, German and Luxembourg judicial officials and investigators will participate in the trip, which aims to move forward the corruption probe into Salameh first initiated by Swiss authorities in 2021, the sources told Reuters.

Salameh, 72, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the probes are part of a coordinated campaign to make him a scapegoat for Lebanon's 2019 financial collapse, which has brought increased scrutiny of his three-decade tenure at the central bank.

A spokesperson for Eurojust, the European Union's agency for criminal justice cooperation that has coordinated the probes into Salameh's wealth was not immediately available for comment.

Spokespeople for French and Luxembourg judicial authorities did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment, and Reuters could not immediately reach German judicial authorities for comment.

In March, Eurojust announced the seizure of some 120 million euros ($127.78 million) of Lebanese assets in France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco and Belgium.

Though the agency did not name any suspects, prosecutors in the German city of Munich confirmed to Reuters that Salameh was a suspect in the case that led to the asset seizure.

Swiss authorities suspect Salameh, together with his brother Raja, may have illegally taken more than $300 million from the Lebanese central bank between 2002 and 2015, laundering some of the money in Switzerland, according to Swiss court documents seen by Reuters.

In an interview with Reuters in November 2021, Riad Salameh denied any wrongdoing, saying no central bank or public Lebanese funds were diverted.

In Germany, prosecutors have said they were investigating the possibility that some of the funds identified by Swiss authorities were used to acquire real estate, notably in Munich.

For their part, French prosecutors are trying to determine whether the Salameh brothers used some of those funds to acquire real estate in France, including part of a building on the Champs Elysees, according to people familiar with the matter.

And Luxembourg's judiciary in November 2021 confirmed it had opened a criminal case into Salameh, but declined to comment further.

($1 = 0.9391 euros)

(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)