Anti-corruption groups file complaint against Lebanon's PM in France

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads a cabinet meeting in Beirut

By Maya Gebeily and Juliette Jabkhiro

BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) - Two anti-graft groups have filed a complaint in France against Lebanon's billionaire caretaker premier Najib Mikati and his relatives, seeking an investigation into alleged financial crimes including money laundering, according to a document seen by Reuters.

In a statement issued by his office, Mikati said he had not been formally notified of the complaint and that his family's wealth was acquired transparently and legally. It said the accusations were part of a "media campaign" aimed at "insulting him and his family members".

Forbes lists Mikati and his brother Taha as Lebanon's two richest men, tied for the top with $2.8 billion net worth each.

The complaint, dated April 2, was lodged at the National Financial Prosecutor's office in France by anti-corruption groups Sherpa and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon.

The National Financial Prosecutor's office in France said it could not immediately confirm receipt of the complaint, and declined further comment.

The complaint lays out an array of companies and real estate owned by Mikati and relatives in France, or registered in other countries, saying they warrant further inquiry to establish alleged acts of money laundering and receiving stolen goods.

"That's the kind of mechanical consequences of being a billionaire politician - you consider your position to be a kind of shelter against prosecution," William Bourdon, a lawyer for Sherpa, told Reuters on Thursday.

Bourdon said he expected an investigation to be opened, and that it would also establish links between Mikati and Lebanon's former central bank governor Riad Salameh, whose 30-year legacy at the Banque du Liban (BdL) ended last year in tatters.

France and Germany have issued arrest warrants for Salameh as part of their investigations into him and his brother Raja for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from Lebanon's central bank, to the detriment of the Lebanese state, and laundering the funds abroad.

The Salameh brothers have denied any kind of wrongdoing.

"The complaint particularly draws the attention of the authorities to the financial transfers between the former prime minister, his relatives and the (Central) Bank of Lebanon," a press release by Sherpa on Thursday said.

The statement by Mikati's office said he "confirms that what the family owns as a result of the business of its commercial companies that go back many years is characterised by complete transparency and adherence to applicable laws and the highest ethical principles".

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily and Juliette Jabkhiro; editing by Mark Heinrich)