A French investigative judge issued an international arrest warrant for Lebanon’s central bank chief Riyad Salameh on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter.
Salameh had earlier failed to appear in court to be questioned by French investigators who wanted to know how he amassed his vast fortune in Europe, his lawyer said.
Investigators suspect Salameh built his network of real estate and banking assets through a complex fraudulent financial system and widespread misuse of Lebanese public funds during his three decades as central bank governor.
Tuesday’s hearing is an opportunity to bring charges against him.
His lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Sur, told AFP that the summons had been sent so recently that it was “ineffective”.
A Lebanese legal source told AFP this week that despite four attempts by police to deliver the summons to the central bank, authorities failed to serve Salameh with the summons.
The magistrate in charge of the case had the option of issuing a new subpoena after Salameh failed to appear in court on Tuesday, but decided to issue an international arrest warrant.
Salame, 72, who has been under investigation in France since July 2021, denies the allegations.
Since the beginning of the year, magistrates from European countries have traveled to Lebanon three times to interview the central bank governor and his entourage.
In France, at least two people have been charged in connection with the case.
“One day he will be arrested,” said French rights lawyer William Bourdain, who is representing two plaintiffs’ associations.
But, Bourdain added, Salame benefited from “systematic obstruction by some Lebanese magistrates, in complete breach of their obligations to France”.
Salameh’s lawyers rejected an arrest warrant issued on Tuesday.
“I think it’s pure abuse of power,” Sur said.
The impact of the arrest warrant is unclear.
Lebanon does not extradite its nationals.
Meanwhile, Salameh could be at risk of being arrested if he travels to other countries.
In March 2022, France, Germany and Luxembourg froze assets believed to belong to Salamé worth 120 million euros ($130 million).
A Paris appeals court will review the lawfulness of the partial seizure in France later this month.
Salameh has run the Central Bank of Lebanon since 1993.