Lebanon notified of probe into central bank chief: source

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Beirut (AFP)

The Lebanese judiciary has received a request for assistance from Switzerland over an investigation into money transfers allegedly made by central bank chef Riad Salameh, a judicial source told AFP.

The investigation is looking into $400 million allegedly transferred out of Lebanon, despite tight restrictions, by Salameh, his brother, his assistant and financial institutions linked to the central bank, the source said.

Salameh's office issued a statement denying the allegations, which were first carried by Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper.

"All claims of alleged money transfers abroad, whether made under his (Salameh's) name, or the name of his brother, or assistant, are fabrications and fake news," it said.

There was no immediate response from the Swiss authorities.

According to the judicial source, judge Ghassan Oueidat received the request "directly from the Swiss embassy in Beirut".

The request did not include documents or evidence proving allegations but listed questions the judiciary should ask Salameh and others linked to the case, according to the source.

"The letter was sent to the judiciary in an unusual way, outside regular diplomatic channels," the judicial source added.

The investigation was first reported on Tuesday by Al-Akhbar, a staunch critic of the long-time central bank governor.

According to the daily, the probe is part of a wider effort spearheaded by France, Britain and the United States to investigate shady dealings by Lebanese officials, including Salameh.

It comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 80 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market and banks have halted dollar transactions to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.

Salameh and the country's elite have been widely accused of stashing their dollars in foreign accounts to evade capital controls.

This has sparked calls abroad and at home for efforts to return deposits to Lebanon, which is in desperate need of foreign currency.

Salameh has pledged to investigate money transfers that took place since the country introduced banking restrictions.

Last year, he said in an interview with the France 24 news channel that $1 billion had been stashed abroad.

Lebanon in 2020 said it filed a request to Geneva to help track funds transferred to Swiss accounts.

But Swiss authorities have not complied with the request, the judicial source said.