France summons brother, assistant of Lebanon central bank boss in fraud probe

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during a news conference at Central Bank in Beirut

BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) -France's judiciary has summoned the brother of and an assistant to Lebanon's central bank governor, two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Monday, as it continues its probe into alleged embezzlement and money-laundering by the bank chief.

Central bank chief Riad Salameh, his brother Raja Salameh, and his assistant Marianne Hoayek are being investigated in Lebanon, France and other countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions in funds from the central bank.

The brothers have denied wrongdoing. Lawyers for Raja and for Hoayek did not respond to separate requests for comment.

France has set a hearing in Paris for his brother Raja on May 31 and for Hoayek on June 13, a source close to the matter told Reuters. A Lebanese judicial source confirmed to Reuters that Lebanon's judiciary had received the summons and was working to deliver them.

France last week issued an arrest warrant for Salameh, 72, after he failed to attend his own hearing in Paris. Interpol subsequently issued a red notice.

Lebanon's caretaker justice minister Henry Khoury told local broadcaster Al-Jadeed that he feared more European countries may follow suit and file their own charges against Salameh, which could have consequences on the country's financial situation - already in freefall since 2019.

"The governor must realize this and resign on his own," Khoury said, adding his voice to those of the caretaker deputy premier and interior minister who last week said Salameh should step down.

Lebanon's cabinet met on Monday afternoon to discuss how the charges against Salameh might affect the Lebanese state and what legal options they may have to remove him, two government sources told Reuters.

But the meeting produced no concrete results, according to two separate government sources. A statement issued after the meeting said the cabinet would support whatever action the judiciary decided on.

The Salameh brothers and Hoayek have already been charged in two separate cases in Lebanon related to embezzlement and other financial crimes, but none of them are in custody.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Alain Acco in Paris; Writing by Maya Gebeily, Editing by William Maclean and Susan Fenton)