According to sources, the UK criminal justice agency is considering investigating the corruption report on Lebanon


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during a press conference at the Central Bank in Beirut

By John Irish and Samia Nakhoul

PARIS / BEIRUT (Reuters) – The UK Organized Crime Agency is currently examining a report by a group of London-based lawyers accusing Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and staff of money laundering and corrupt practices.

The 76-page report by Reuters describes hundreds of millions of pounds of assets, companies and investment vehicles in the UK that Salameh, members of his family and employees have used over years to derive funds from Lebanon.

Salameh, who has headed Lebanon’s central bank since 1993, told Reuters that he read a copy of the report and described it as part of a smear campaign. “These are false allegations,” he said.

The London-based law firm Guernica37 submitted the report to the UK police late last year, two sources said. They said it was then referred to the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA). The report was commissioned by a group from Lebanese civil society in the diaspora.

“We can confirm that we received this report, but we are unable to provide any further comments,” said an NCA spokesman, declining to say whether an investigation has been opened. Two of the sources said that the NCA’s financial investigation unit was conducting a scoping exercise, a form of preliminary investigation, to determine if there were sufficient grounds to open a formal investigation.

Lebanon’s financial and political elite have been scrutinized for alleged mismanagement, corruption and obstructive efforts to seek international aid for years, especially since a massive explosion in the port of Beirut eight months ago brought the country deeper into distress.

The Guernica37 inquiry is one of several ongoing or planned in Europe aimed at officials in the Lebanese financial sector and its broader political class.

The Swiss Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in January that it had asked Lebanon for legal assistance as part of an investigation into “increased money laundering” and possible embezzlement in connection with the Lebanese central bank.

When asked by Reuters, the Swiss Attorney General did not say whether Salameh was a suspect and declined to comment. Salameh has denied any wrongdoing.

The Lebanese banking system is at the center of a financial crisis that erupted in late 2019. Banks have blocked most overseas transfers and restricted access to deposits as dollars became scarce. The collapse has crashed the currency, resulted in sovereign defaults and fueled widespread poverty.

Guernica 37 co-founder Toby Caldman said in a statement to Reuters that the group’s report was one of several legal filings it had prepared for the UK authorities about Lebanon.

“Our intention is to address, investigate and uncover all pillars of suspected corruption in the country,” he said.

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