The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been urged to investigate the multi-million pound UK property and assets of a Lebanese finance chief whose bank faces money laundering allegations.
A dossier by London-based lawyers has been passed to the NCA detailing assets, businesses and investment vehicles in Britain worth hundreds of millions of pounds, which it claims has been used by the governor of the central bank of Lebanon, members of his family and associates to embezzle funds from Lebanon.
The allegations are denied by Riad Salameh, governor of Lebanon’s central bank since 1993, who claims to be “ideologically and politically motivated” and claims the assets come from independent wealth accumulated over a successful 20-year career in as Merrill Lynch’s banker and inherited. money.
The dispute takes place against a backdrop of political crossfire and endemic corruption in Lebanon, symbolized by the explosion of the ammonium nitrate store on August 14, 2020 in Beirut which killed more than 190 people, injured 6,500 and left some 300,000 homeless people.
The dossier was handed over to the ANC by Margaret Hodge, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption, who campaigned against the use of UK-registered businesses to facilitate money laundering. “It is important that these issues are assessed and, if necessary, examined,” she said.
It was compiled by a team led by Toby Cadman, head of Guernica’s 37 legal chambers, as part of a series of reports and investigations into allegations of corruption in Lebanon on behalf of civil society groups in the country. .
“Our intention is to address, investigate and expose all pillars of alleged corruption in the country,” he said.
The report, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, details the investment vehicles and assets, including apartments – the £ 3.5million one in Broadwalk Park overlooking Hyde Park – which it says are owned by Mr. Salameh and / or members of his family.
He claims the assets were not obtained in the course of legitimate business operations in Lebanon and urges UK law enforcement to investigate. The report was also forwarded to Scotland Yard.
A spokesperson for the NCA said: “We can confirm that we have received the report, but we do not systematically confirm or deny the existence of investigations.”
The Lebanese financial and political elite have come under increasing scrutiny for allegations of mismanagement and obstruction of efforts to unlock international aid, especially since the chemical explosion in Beirut has wreaked havoc on the already existing economy. difficulty of the country.
The Swiss attorney general’s office requested legal assistance from Lebanon earlier this year in connection with an investigation into “aggravated money laundering” and possible embezzlement linked to the Lebanese central bank.
Mr. Salameh denied any wrongdoing and answered questions posed by the Lebanese prosecutor in January on behalf of the Swiss prosecutor general.
In a statement, Mr Salameh denied “in the strongest terms” any suggestion that his assets came from anything other than legitimate sources.
He said the analysis of his wealth was based on “flawed or unfounded assumptions” and that he presented “documentary evidence” in public and on television to demonstrate his origin.
“[Prior to 1993], he was a successful banker at Merrill Lynch with a monthly salary of around $ 165,000. His net worth was $ 23 million, in addition to inherited assets, ”a bank spokesperson said.
“There are valid reasons to believe that these recurring attacks on Mr. Salameh are politically and ideologically motivated.”
Mr. Salameh has already been hailed by the IMF for his management of the bank and as a financial “wizard”, but he has been mired in legal and political battles in recent years because of the financial crisis in Lebanon.