Alwaght- A European delegation comprised of representatives from Germany, France, and Luxembourg under a judiciary mission that continued to January 20 interrogated under the supervision of Lebanese judiciary a number of financial and banking figures from Lebanon linked to money laundering and smuggling.
However, on the eve of the start of the mission of the European delegation, Lebanon’s chief prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat announced in a interview that has caused a lot of controversy that Riad Salameh, the governor of Central Bank of Lebanon and one of the most important causes of Lebanon’s economic crises in recent years, whose name was previously on the list of must-interrogate people has been removed from this list. He pointed out that the actions taken regarding the visit of the delegation are subject to legal principles and the prosecutor’s office has set up the appropriate legal mechanism.
This came while the Reuters news agency had earlier reported that delegation would travel to Lebanon to investigate Salameh who had been the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank over the past three decades.
According to a Swiss court documents seen by Reuters, investigators believe Salameh and his brother Raja illegally appropriated and laundered more than $300 million from Lebanon’s Central Bank between 2002 and 2015.
Salameh, 72, denies any wrongdoing and calls the investigation part of a coordinated campaign to hold him responsible for Lebanon’s 2019 financial collapse. His brother has also denied any wrongdoing.
But German prosecutors have said they are looking into the possibility that some of the money was used to buy real estate, particularly in Munich.
French prosecutors are trying to determine if Salameh brothers used some of the money to buy real estate in France, including part of a building on the Champs Elysees, according to Reuters.
Luxembourg’s judiciary also confirmed in November 2021 that it had opened a criminal case against Salameh.
The mission of the European delegation is within the framework of the treaty that was approved by the UN in 2003 and entered into effect in 2005, and Lebanon joined it in 2008 based on Law No. 33, which was approved by the Parliament in 2008, and is obliged to implement this treaty.
Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that the first panel consisting of expert judges, investigators, and members of the judicial police will investigate the suspects in corruption and money laundering cases. The panels would be formed separately.
Criticism of European politicization of the case and violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty
While the name of the most important person linked to corruption and the economic crisis in Lebanon has been removed from the interrogation file in a very suspicious way, and most likely with this action, some domestic and foreign actors are preparing the ground for the complete acquittal of Riad Salameh, who is one of the main figures close to ex-PM Saad Hariri and Saudi Arabia, and his family, in the meantime, in a completely targeted move, European delegation is eyeing entry into Beirut Port investigation case.
Some Lebanese judicial sources believe that the outcomes of the investigation would be within the framework of findings by the national judiciary as the European delegation looks into information provided by the Lebanese judiciary. Still, this EU move is causing concerns among Lebanese political and judiciary officials who deem this European behavior and action insulting and a violation of their country’s sovereignty. The EU prepared this delegation without coordination with Beirut and just informed the Lebanese officials of the date of its arrival, without asking for Lebanese viewpoints.
The one-sided investigation by the European judicial bodies without the involvement of the Lebanese judiciary caused discontentment among Lebanese judges who considered this to be an interference in the Lebanese judicial affairs and a hijacking of its role.
Informed sources suggested that the “dangerous project” that is designed for Lebanon is a step-by-step plan to dominate the country’s sensitive and sovereign institutions, especially that since 2019, which was the starting point for the nation’s political, economic, and financial crisis, the Lebanese officials have taken no steps to deal with such sensitive cases like criminal investigation into Central Bank, Beirut port explosion, and some other cases.
The move by the European judicial delegation is widely regarded an intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon and a violation of its sovereignty, as the Europeans pretend that Beirut does not have the necessary power to handle this case, something questioning the judicial independence of Lebanon. On the other hand, the judges who are supposed to investigate these cases will be appointed by foreign actors, and practically Lebanon will be excluded from the case, and the foreigners will be tasked with solving Lebanon’s internal basic issues. The judicial intervention of the Europeans is not out of benevolence, but the West is looking to take advantage of the current situation in Lebanon and dominate its political and sovereign institutions. Given the fact that the West considers Hezbollah to be the main cause of the crises in Lebanon, it may blame everything on this movement in the investigation of the Beirut explosion by manipulating the investigation process in order to incite public opinion against it.
The EU removal of name of Salameh, who has acquitted himself by forging documents, from investigation list comes while a majority of the Lebanese find him the main cause of their critical economic conditions who should respond in a fair court. But the Europeans are acting selectively in this case. Given the state of political instability hitting Lebanon’s society, further Western interference can spur broader disputes between the country’s political factions and make the conditions even more difficult for the Lebanese.