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Lebanon's central bank governor calls French arrest warrant violation of law, vows to appeal

Lebanon's central bank governor, Riad Salameh (Photo by AFP)

Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has slammed French prosecutors for issuing an arrest warrant against him, saying he would appeal against the decision.  

Salameh made the remarks in a statement on Tuesday, after an international arrest warrant was issued earlier in the day following his failure to appear before French prosecutors to be questioned on corruption charges.

Salameh denounced as “a violation of law” the arrest warrant, vowing to challenge it by filing an appeal.

He also said the French investigative judge Aude Buresi has made a decision based on "presumptuous ideas," adding that "this is justice based on double standards."

Salameh, 72, was supposed to appear before French prosecutors on Tuesday as part of an ongoing European probe into the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job.

A European judicial team from France, Germany and Luxembourg has been investigating a corruption probe into charges against Salameh and his associates, including illicit enrichment and laundering of $330 million.

Salameh has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Pierre-Olivier Sur, the French lawyer for Salameh, said French prosecutors didn’t follow the rules upon summoning him to France.

"By having notified the summons less than 10 days before the scheduled date of the interrogation, the rules were not respected," he said, adding, "The summons is therefore null and void."

A senior judicial source also said Lebanon's judiciary was unable to deliver the summons to attend the Paris hearing as it was addressed to Salameh at the central bank and he was unavailable to receive it.

Salameh’s whereabouts were not known Tuesday and the central bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment on his failure to show up in Paris.

The date for Tuesday’s hearing was set last month and Lebanon lifted a travel ban on Salameh, who is also being investigated at home.

In the probe in Lebanon, Beirut’s Public Prosecutor Raja Hamoush charged Salameh, his brother and a close associate with corruption in late February, including embezzling public funds, forgery, illicit enrichment, money-laundering and violation of tax laws.

Defense lawyers representing Salameh, his brother and his former assistant Marianne Hoayek have already submitted an objection to Lebanon's judiciary over the French case, saying France should not be allowed to try a case already being investigated in Lebanon.

Salameh’s lawyers accuse the European investigators of “violating Lebanon’s sovereignty” and want them to “permanently suspend” their investigation.

Salameh’s term ends in July, and while there is no apparent successor, the longtime governor has said in television interviews that he plans to step down.

The governor of Lebanon's central bank holds French citizenship and such accusations could culminate in his arrest upon return to France.

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