Eurojust, the European body for coordinating the fight against organized crime, announced on Monday March 28 the seizure of approximately 120 million euros of Lebanese assets in various European countries, including France. This major asset freeze follows a money laundering investigation targeting five people, including the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salamé.
These five suspects are suspected of having “embezzled public funds in Lebanon for amounts of more than 330 million dollars [300 millions d’euros]and 5 million euros, respectively, between 2002 and 2021”, said Monday, March 28, the European Agency for Judicial Cooperation (Eurojust) in a statement. Sources familiar with the matter told Agence France-Presse that these five people were Riad Salamé and four members of his family or entourage.
On July 2, 2021, the French financial prosecutor’s office (PNF) opened a judicial investigation targeting the rich heritage in Europe of the Lebanese official, on whom the charges of money laundering in an organized gang and criminal association weigh.
The target of a series of legal investigations both in Lebanon and abroad, Riad Salamé is also the subject of new charges linked to a “illicit enrichment” issued by a judge in Beirut, said a judicial source on March 21.
The PNF praised on Twitter “scale seizures” in the context of a judicial investigation that he had opened for heads of “organized money laundering, association of criminals and concealment of crimes committed in particular in France and Lebanon”. Eurojust, which coordinated the operation, for its part did not give information on the identity of the suspects, and insisted on the fact that the latter are “presumed innocent until proven guilty”.
In France, the authorities seized, on Friday March 25, two real estate complexes in Paris with a total value of 16 million euros, detailed Eurojust. These are two apartments located in the 16and arrondissement of Paris, according to a source familiar with the matter. Several bank accounts were also seized in France (2.2 million euros) and Monaco (46 million euros), as well as a building in Brussels worth 7 million euros, Eurojust said. .
German judicial authorities seized three properties (one in Hamburg, two in Munich). Shares in a Düsseldorf-based real estate company were also secured. Besides the properties, currently worth around 28 million euros, other assets worth around 7 million euros have been seized across Germany, Eurojust said. In Luxembourg, around 11 million euros were seized from several bank accounts, according to the agency.
” Scapegoat “
The legal proceedings against Mr. Salamé have as their starting point the complaints filed in April in Paris by the Swiss foundation Accountability Now on the one hand and, on the other, the NGO Sherpa and the “Collective of victims of fraudulent and criminal practices in Lebanon”made up of savers robbed in the crisis that has hit the country since 2019.
While Lebanon is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, this relative of the Hariri family clan is shouted down by the street, who suspects him of having, like other officials in the country, transferred large sums to the foreigner during the October 2019 uprising. He defended himself against it in the media, believing that he was the ” scapegoat “ of the crisis and claiming to have grown the assets of 23 million dollars (19.5 million euros) that he held in 1993 when he took office at the head of the central bank.
“We will exercise all appropriate remedies”reacted Monday Mand Pierre-Olivier Sur, Mr. Salamé’s lawyer in France.