Swiss court refuses to release part of Lebanese central bank chief funds

A violent protest outside the Lebanese Central Bank in Beirut, March 24, 2023. Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Switzerland’s highest court has upheld a decision by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) refusing to release a portion of funds frozen in an account linked to Lebanese Central Bank governor Riad Salameh.

This content was published on April 20, 2023

Salameh, who was charged with money laundering, embezzlement and illicit enrichment in Lebanon in February, has been the focus of a Swiss investigation since October 2020.

The Swiss probe has reportedly been looking at transfers made by Salameh, his brother, and an assistant to various accounts between 2002 and 2015, via an obscure offshore company.

The attorney general’s office has not provided a figure as to how much money is involved, but a recent Swiss media report claims that a large share of the $300-500 million that Salame is accused of embezzling ended up in the accounts of 12 Swiss banks. The report also said that millions of dollars had been frozen by Swiss authorities.

+ Media: alleged embezzled millions from Lebanon ended up in Swiss banks

The federal court verdict, made public on Wednesday, related to an August 2021 request by two companies controlled by Salameh – Salamander Trust and Crossland Limited – for the release of CHF150,000 ($167,000) in frozen accounts at the Julius Baer bank. The OAG released a portion of the funds, but withheld amounts for the settlement of three legal bills totalling around CHF33,300 ($37,180).

In its verdict, the court stood by the OAG’s decision, justifying it on the grounds that one of the companies had a valid account at the Bank of Lebanon with some CHF2.7 million in it – thus, it could claim it needed the money in the Swiss account to settle legal fees.

+ Explainer: the probes into Lebanese central bank chief Salameh

According to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, the latest federal court verdict also rejected a request by the brothers to gain wider access to information on the Swiss case.

Salameh, who denies the charges against him, is under investigation in at least five European countries.

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