Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salame has complained that he is being prosecuted for political reasons rather than on judicial basis, cautioning against attempts to further destabilize the financial situation in Lebanon by targeting him.
In an interview with the Dubai-based Al Hadath TV channel on Thursday, Salame vowed to safeguard the banking sector, a pillar of the Lebanese economy that has remained unscathed during 15 years of a devastating civil war.
He affirmed that the Central Bank will combat money speculation to maintain a stable exchange rate of the local currency which reached an exorbitant 145,000 to the dollar in March.
“The Central Bank is capable of absorbing all the local currency present on the market as it did when the rate dropped to 94,000 to the dollar. We will not allow a further deterioration of the lira,” he said, adding that his actions which restored some confidence and credibility in the market “contradict what is being alleged” about him.
Salame reviewed the attacks and campaigns launched against the financial measures taken by the Central Bank to stabilize the exchange market, alluding that these were politically driven by parties who would profit by rampant speculation.
“Many are those who are disturbed by the monetary and market stability that has been prevailing for the past two months and which led to a certain economic growth,” Salame said.
“They sought the collapse of the country in the few months after the crisis, but it did not collapse. We will not let the banks go bankrupt, and the savings could be returned to their depositors away from populism,” he added.
On the international arrest issued against him by French Magistrate Aude Buresi, Salame described it as “baseless,” as indicated by the documents he has provided, especially in the case of the Forry, the company owned by his brother.”
“The judicial pathway is unfair, but I am ready for it because my conscience is clear and the charges filed against me are untrue,” he said, accusing the judiciary of targeting him because they do not dare to go after Lebanese politicians.
He insinuated that his political opponents are behind the false charges filed against him.
“Let me state it clearly, I am not evading prosecution. I am cooperating with the judiciary in Lebanon and abroad. I have appeared before the Lebanese judge and presented the documents which show that suspicions in my case are baseless,” he stated.
Salame, his brother Raja, and his assistant Marianne Hoayek are being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries on suspicion that they may have taken more than $300 million from the central bank.
He plans to appeal against the French warrant, which he said violated the provisions of a Lebanese-French agreement.
Nonetheless, he affirmed that he will step down if any court ruling is issued against him and that he will quit as central bank governor once his mandate expires. The position would then be taken over by his first deputy until a new governor is appointed.
His departure would mark a milestone in the financial meltdown resulting from decades of profligate spending, corruption and unsustainable policies by Lebanon’s leaders.
Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said on Friday that Lebanon has received an arrest warrant from the International Police Organization (Interpol) against Salame.