France launched an investigation into the bribery of the head of the central bank of Lebanon

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PARIS (AP) – The French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office has launched a preliminary investigation into the money-laundering activities of the Lebanese central bank governor, prosecutors said on Monday.

The move by France came just months after Switzerland launched an investigation into possible money laundering and embezzlement at Lebanon’s central bank, which is now at the center of an unprecedented financial crisis that has shocked the small Mediterranean country.

French prosecutors said an investigation into Riad Salame was launched in late May on potential charges of money laundering and links to an organized criminal group. No further details are provided.

Salame, 70, who ruled Lebanon’s central bank for nearly three decades, has long been considered a symbol of monetary stability in the tiny country. But in 2019, Lebanon plunged into its worst economic and financial crisis. The Lebanese pound, which has been pegged to the dollar at 1,515 for over 20 years, is now trading on the black market at nearly 13,000.

Anti-government protesters are now calling Salameh, a former investment banker at Merrill Lynch, a “thief,” and protests have repeatedly taken place outside his Beirut office amid a collapse in the local currency and a downturn in the economy that surpassed 20% last year. 2020, according to the World Bank.

In January, Switzerland’s attorney general said he had asked Lebanon to cooperate in investigating the central bank, without providing further details. It is also unclear what prompted the Swiss investigation.

In recent months, local media reported that Salame and his brother, as well as one of his assistants, were involved in illegal business, including remittances abroad, despite capital controls imposed at home. Salame denied such transfers.

Salame, who has served at the central bank since 1993, has defended his role by claiming a systematic campaign to hold him accountable for the country’s financial crisis.

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