Lebanese prosecutor seeks to question actress in Salameh graft probe

Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh stands next to gold at the central bank in Beirut, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on November 24, 2022. Lebanon central bank/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT, Dec 8 (Reuters) - A Lebanese prosecutor said on Thursday she had ordered security forces to bring in for questioning a Lebanese actress for whom central bank chief Riad Salameh was suspected of buying luxury property using ill-gotten gains.

The order issued by Judge Ghada Aoun is part of an ongoing money laundering and embezzlement investigation against Salameh, Aoun told Reuters, adding that the actress - Stephanie Saliba - had not been charged with any crime.

Saliba did not immediately respond to a social media message requesting comment. Reuters was unable to reach her via phone.

Salameh did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has consistently denied allegations of corruption during his 29-year tenure at the central bank and says the charges against him, including by Aoun, are part of a political campaign to scapegoat him for Lebanon's financial crisis.

Aoun in March charged Salameh with illicit enrichment, the first count brought against a veteran governor whose wealth is also being investigated in at least five European countries.

Aoun said that despite having issued the order last week for the actress to be brought in for questioning, security forces had yet to carry it out.

Salameh continues to enjoy the support of some of Lebanon's most senior politicians, including parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, and the investigations have faced repeated hurdles.

Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported on Thursday that Mikati personally intervened so that Saliba would not be brought in for questioning - a report quickly denied by Mikati's office.

Mikati has previously said that politicians should first

agree on a successor to the governor, whose six-year term ends next year, before investigations against him move forward.

Earlier this week, French prosecutors said they had put a Ukrainian woman linked to Salameh under formal investigation as part of a cross-border inquiry into alleged fraud to the detriment of the Lebanese state.

Anna Kosakova, with whom Salameh has a daughter according to a birth certificate seen by Reuters, is suspected of aggravated money laundering, according to a spokesperson for Paris financial prosecutors.

A lawyer for Kosakova said he and his client would "react very soon" to the French prosecutors' moves.

The French investigation is part of a coordinated effort by prosecutors in Lebanon, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein to get to the bottom of allegations that Salameh used his position to embezzle hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.

Reporting by Timour Azhari Editing by Mark Heinrich

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