The German judiciary has issued an arrest warrant for the head of the Lebanese central bank, Riad Salamé. According to consistent press reports, the Lebanese judiciary was informed of this on Tuesday. The public prosecutor's office in Munich, which is investigating Salamé on suspicion of money laundering, only said when asked that it would not comment on arrest warrants.

Christoph Ehrhardt

Correspondent for the Arab countries based in Beirut.

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As the F.A.Z. learned from well-informed circles, the judge in charge, who is leading the investigation against the head of the central bank in Lebanon, has been informed. Salamé and his brother Rajja are accused, among other things, of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars. Investigations are underway in Lebanon and several European countries. The Lebanese official, who has headed the central bank for more than 30 years, denies the allegations.

The German arrest warrant increases the pressure on Salamé, against whom an arrest warrant has already been issued from France. At the end of last week, the Ministry of the Interior in Beirut confirmed that it had received a "red notice" from Interpol, a request to determine the whereabouts of a specific person and to arrest him or her provisionally. Salamé has announced that he will defend himself against the French arrest warrant, which he said was a "clear violation of the most fundamental laws".

Network of offshore companies at the centre of the investigations

At the center of the investigation is a network of offshore companies in which Salamé's brother Rajja is significantly involved. In particular, the name of the company "Forry Associates Limited", which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, appears again and again. According to investigators, Forry had entered into a brokerage agreement with the central bank. According to the report, hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into Swiss bank accounts controlled by the Salamés. From there, money was transferred back to Lebanon, from where it was used to purchase real estate in several European cities in prime locations.

According to the European judicial authority Eurojust, in the course of the investigations against five main suspects, properties in Germany and France were seized and bank accounts were also frozen. Accordingly, there are two properties in Munich, one in Hamburg and two in Paris. Shares in a Düsseldorf-based real estate company had also been seized.

Salamé receives backing from the highest level

According to information, the foreign investigators, who work closely together, have a clear picture of the machinations of the head of the central bank and his entourage. The investigations are sometimes arduous because Salamé has the backing of the highest authorities. German investigators were in Beirut at the end of January. Prime Minister Najib Miqati, a business partner of Salamé, had tried to delay the visit until the end. The incumbent prime minister had once even threatened to resign in order to prevent searches in Lebanese banks in which the accounts of Salamé's brother were involved. According to Beirut at the time, the German investigators were also confronted with all sorts of obstacles: power outages or missing keys to locked file rooms whose owners were outside the city at the time of the announced visit.

Salamé has also been criticised for being largely to blame for the economic crisis in Lebanon, in the wake of which legions of Lebanese small savers have lost their savings. The head of the central bank is considered the architect of a system of corrupt financial deals and accounting manipulation that ensured that the rate of the Lebanese currency was kept artificially high. In the fall of 2019, Salamé's house of cards collapsed.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is facing further adversity. According to information from the F.A.Z., the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global monitoring organization for money laundering, wants to put the country on its "gray list". It lists countries that are under increased scrutiny because of their deficits in this field. Such a process could make financial transactions considerably more difficult and also harm Lebanese bank customers abroad. The Lebanese government therefore tried to avert the step until the very end.