Lebanon cenbank governor says he will appeal against French arrest warrant

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

BEIRUT (Reuters) -French prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, a move the governor said he would challenge through an appeal, calling it a violation of law.

The warrant was issued after Salameh failed to attend a hearing in Paris where prosecutors had been expected to press preliminary fraud and money laundering charges against him.

Salameh said in a statement he would appeal against the warrant. He accused the French investigative judge Aude Buresi of taking a decision based on "presumptuous ideas", saying "this is justice based on double standards".

The governor, alongside his brother and an assistant, are being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the central bank to the detriment of the state.

French prosecutors had set a hearing for him at 9:30 a.m. on May 16, according to court documents seen by Reuters. French prosecutors intend to press the preliminary charges and formally name him a suspect during that hearing.

Two sources with knowledge of his travel plans told Reuters on Tuesday that Salameh had remained in Beirut. Neither Salameh nor his lawyer in Lebanon responded to requests for comment from Reuters.

A French lawyer for Salameh said French prosecutors didn’t follow the rules upon summoning the central bank governor to France.

"By having notified the summons less than 10 days before the scheduled date of the interrogation, the rules were not respected," the lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Sur, told Reuters. "The summons is therefore null and void."

The office of French prosecutors didn't respond to a message seeking comment.

A senior judicial source said Lebanon's judiciary was unable to deliver the summons to attend the Paris hearing as it was addressed to Salameh at the Central Bank and he was unavailable to receive it.

Another judicial source said the defence attorneys for the Salamehs and for the central bank chief's assistant Marianne Hoayek had submitted an objection to Lebanon's judiciary over the French case, saying France should not be allowed to try a case already being investigated in Lebanon.

The three have been charged in two separate cases in Lebanon. Riad and Raja Salameh have denied diverting public funds and neither Hoayek nor her lawyer have spoken publicly about the charges.

Lebanon's top public prosecutor said in January that Beirut could delay cooperating with foreign investigations pending progress on the local probes.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul, Jana Choukeir and Nayera Abdallah in Dubai; Writing by Maya Gebeily; Editing by William Maclean)