Talks in Beirut about Swiss probe in Lebanon’s central bank

The Lebanese foreign minister, Charbel Wehbi, in talks with Switzerland's ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmutz Kirgöz (right). Keystone/Dalati Nohra

Lebanon’s foreign minister has held talks with the Swiss ambassador to Beirut after Switzerland started a probe into possible money laundering and embezzlement at the Mideast country’s central bank.

This content was published on January 25, 2021 - 14:30 with Associated Press agency/ug

Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbi and ambassador Monika Schmutz Kirgöz did not offer comments following their meeting on Monday, saying only that the probe is a matter that judicial authorities are dealing with.

Switzerland’s attorney general said last week he has asked Lebanon for cooperation into the probe, without offering further details. It’s not clear what prompted the Swiss investigation. Lebanon is facing its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.

Lebanon’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh, denied last week he had made any transfers of the bank’s funds. On Monday, shortly after the meeting between Wehbi and Schmutz Kirgöz, the governor issued a statement saying reports about large transfers “are very exaggerated and have nothing to do with reality.”

They allegedly aim to tarnish the image of the central bank and its governor “but lies won’t succeed," said Salameh, who has been questioned by Lebanon’s prosecutor general.

A parliamentarian from the Switzerland’s Social Democratic Party, Fabian Molina, has been campaigning for months for Swiss authorities to act against corruption in Lebanon. On Sunday, he said he was pleased “there is finally a movement in connection with the billions (of dollars) stolen from the Lebanese people.”

Molina added he expects the Swiss government and the Financial Market Authority to take action “to block further funds and prevent future cases of money laundering by Swiss banks.”

Lebanon is facing its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history and as of late 2019, private banks enforced informal capital controls, limiting withdrawals and blocking transfers abroad. The value of Lebanon’s currency tumbled against the dollar amid an unprecedented shortage of foreign currencies.

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