Lebanon's central bank chief is suspect in 120 mln euro asset freeze case -German prosecutor

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BEIRUT/MUNICH, March 28 (Reuters) - Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh is a suspect in a case the European Union's criminal justice agency said on Monday had led to the freezing of some 120 million euros ($132 million) of Lebanese assets, prosecutors in Germany said.

The properties and bank accounts, linked to five people suspected of embezzling some $330 million and 5 million euros between 2002 and 2021, were seized in France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco and Belgium, Eurojust said in a statement, which did not identify any suspects.

An email from Munich prosecutors said the Eurojust statement referred to investigations concerning Salameh, whose wealth is being investigated in at least five European states and who was charged last week by a Lebanese judge with illicit enrichment.

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A Eurojust spokesperson declined to comment further and declined to name the suspects, in line with regulations.

Asked by text message about the asset freeze and whether he was linked to it, Salameh told Reuters he was not aware and would check. He has previously denied accusations against him, amid mounting scrutiny of his nearly three decades as governor.

A spokesperson for the central bank did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. A lawyer for Salameh did not immediately respond to emailed questions from Reuters on Monday.

Eurojust has been involved in coordinating meetings between countries probing Salameh, who Swiss prosecutors suspect of embezzling some $330 million along with his brother, Raja, according to a letter the Swiss attorney general sent to Lebanese officials last year, which was seen by Reuters.

Germany, France, Luxembourg and Lichtenstein are also investigating Salameh.

A diplomat from one of the countries where the assets were seized confirmed that the freeze was related to the probes into Salameh and his brother.

The Eurojust statement said the assets seized included some 35 million euros worth in Germany that included properties in Hamburg and Munich, two property complexes in Paris worth 16 million euros and Monaco bank accounts worth 46 million euros.

The case in which Salameh was charged in Lebanon is related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank.

Denying the charge against him in Lebanon last week, Salameh told Reuters he had ordered an audit that showed that public funds were not a source of his wealth.

His brother has been arrested for more than a week on a charge of complicity in the same case. A lawyer for Raja Salameh has called the charge against his client unfounded.

Riad Salameh has previously accused Judge Ghada Aoun, who brought the charges against him and his brother, of politicization. Aoun has been publicly backed by President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movememt party he founded, and the party has called for the governor's removal.

Ghada Aoun says she is simply applying the law.

Salameh still has the backing of some of the most powerful people in the land, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has invited Salameh to a Wednesday Cabinet session, in a move widely seen as a sign of support.

The session comes one day before a hearing scheduled by an investigative judge for Salameh in the illicit enrichment case brought against him by Ghada Aoun.

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Reporting by Timour Azhari in Beirut, David Villars-Gauthier in Turkey and Christina Amann in Germany; Writing by Timour Azhari and Tom Perry; Editing by John Stonestreet, Ed Osmond, David Evans and Mark Porter

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