Lebanese judge lifts travel ban from central bank governor

BEIRUT (AP) – A Lebanese judge on Thursday rescinded a travel ban she had placed on the country’s embattled central bank governor, clearing the way for him to travel to Paris for a scheduled hearing with French prosecutors next month.

Judge Ghada Aoun issued a travel ban against Riad Salameh in January 2022, against the backdrop of a lawsuit accusing him of embezzlement and dereliction of duty during the country’s financial meltdown.

The ban could have prevented Salameh from traveling to Paris to appear at a scheduled hearing on May 16 before French prosecutors, who have opened their own investigation into alleged money laundering.

Aoun told the AP on Wednesday that she planned to rescind the ban. On Thursday, a judicial official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed that the judge had rescinded the ban and that the General Security agency, responsible for border control, had been notified.

Salameh’s lawyer in France and a spokesperson for the Lebanese central bank did not immediately respond to inquiries as to whether Salameh had been notified that the travel ban was lifted and whether he would travel to France for the scheduled hearing.

A delegation of European investigators from France, Germany, and Luxembourg arrived in Beirut in January to interrogate Salameh and others from Lebanon’s financial and banking sector, some of them his close associates, in a money laundering investigation of some $330 million. The investigators are slated to return to Lebanon later this month.

In March last year, authorities in the three countries froze more than $130 million in assets linked to the investigation.

Salameh – who has been in office for nearly three decades, with his term set to expire in July — was once touted as the guardian of Lebanon’s monetary stability and praised for steering the country’s finances through post-war recovery and bouts of unrest. But he has come under intense scrutiny since the small country’s economic meltdown began in late 2019, with many experts now questioning his monetary policies.

The Lebanese pound, which was for many years pegged to the dollar at a rate of 1,500 pounds to $1, now trades at close to 100,000 pounds to the $1 on the black market, which is the operational exchange rate for conducting most business, while the official rate is set at 15,000.

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