Lebanese central bank governor says corruption charges false

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s central bank governor said Wednesday that he asked for an audit of transactions and investments during his tenure and the results showed no public money has been misused.

Riad Salameh, 70, once praised as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, has drawn scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began two years ago.

He’s being investigated in Switzerland and France for potential money laundering and embezzlement. Local media reported in recent months that Salameh, his brother and an aide have been involved in illegal businesses, including money transfers abroad despite the capital controls imposed at home.

Salameh had repeatedly denied making such transfers.

Salameh said in a statement Wednesday that he was a wealthy investment banker before he became the head of the central bank in 1993. Since then, he has been investing and his money and his fortune has been growing.

The economic crisis rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement is described as one of the worst the world has witnessed in more than a century.

In his statement on Wednesday, Salameh said that the result of the audit revealed that “not a single penny of public money” was used to pay for Forry Associates Ltd, that is owned by his brother, Raja.

Salameh said some of his opponents, whom he did not name, “carried out a systematic campaign to mislead the public through spreading false news that public money was used.”

Salameh said the source of his wealth is known, adding that he worked for nearly 20 years before becoming central bank governor as an investment banker for Merrill Lynch.

He added that his last salary at Merrill Lynch was $2 million a year and when he left the company had a fortune worth $23 million, plus property that he inherited. Salameh said that for the past 28 years, he has “wisely invested” his wealth and his fortune has grown.

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