The governor of Lebanon’s central bank, Riad Salameh, is now a fugitive from international justice after skipping a court hearing in Paris last Tuesday. The following day, Interpol issued a red notice (a request to all countries to help in detaining him). Salameh was once the darling of Middle East financial circles, credited with stabilising Lebanon’s economy and maintaining its currency at a steady dollar peg for more than 20 years. But when the economy began to collapse in 2019, it soon became clear that Salameh’s magic touch was an illusion. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese watched as their savings were reduced to nothing, while the banks imposed capital controls to stop them making withdrawals. Salameh sat back and called it a blip.
He is now facing charges of corruption, illicit enrichment and embezzlement from the state in no less than five countries. Swiss authorities believe that he and his family members have squirrelled away more than $330m (€305m) in stolen funds in their banks. Tens of millions more have been revealed in Paris and London. More damningly, there is now direct evidence that Salameh’s son was able to transfer millions of dollars out of Lebanon after its economy began to collapse, even as everyday Lebanese were banned from accessing the savings and pensions that they so desperately needed.
Were this not a country where impunity for corrupt officials has become the order of the day, it would be unbelievable that, more than a year after these multiple criminal charges were filed, Salameh still holds his role as governor. He clearly hopes that his term, which finishes at the end of July, will run its course before the state removes him. If Lebanon’s political establishment ever hopes to regain the confidence of its people, it is time to hold those who have looted their country to account.
Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent. For more, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio at 07.00 London time.