Last February, our colleague, Dima Sadek, approached us one morning carrying with her a confidential document. She told us that it carries incredulous details which reveal that the amount of wealth accumulated by the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon during the last 10 years, which exceed two billion dollars deposited in banks in Panama, British Virgin Islands and Switzerland.
The two billion dollars―at first glance―seemed unrealistic, especially in light of the lack of information available on who prepared the document. However, given the details and the subsidiary documents it contained, in addition to the professionalism in its formulation, we were not able to ignore it.
Under the title “A Report on the Financial Investigations”, the document reveals details about the banking system set by the governor of the Banque du Liban―Riad Salamé―who has succeeded in evading the controls imposed over dollar transactions, by adopting a “complex mechanism that is difficult to fully understand in its various aspects,” according to the document.
The document contained photographs and numbers of accounts managed by Salamé, which were deposited in the name of his brother Raja, who was Riad Salamé’s ‘front’ for years according to the document―as well as Marianne Al-Hoayek, the governor’s office director, who had transferred more than $400 million from her accounts to the accounts of both the Salamé brothers.
Among those accounts, an account at the LGT Bank (Switzerland) AG, Zurich opened in April 2011 with the number 0026310, which is of particular importance.
According to the document, the “only and main” transfers in the sense of getting money out of this account were intended to pour more money into the brothers’ personal accounts in several countries; including Panama, Jersey and the British Virgin Islands. The biggest, and most dramatic surprise was is in the details of the transfers that pumped money into the account, including a $90 million transfer sent on―16th of May, 2012―from the ‘Cham Holding’ Company, which is owned by Rami Makhlouf, the nephew of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, which―if proven―opens the file of Riad ‘s relationship with the Syrian regime..
The Timing of Acquiring the Document
Before diving into the following details, we believe it is necessary to discuss the aspect of ‘timing’ with regards to the situation.
We obtained the document at an exceptional moment in the midst of the economic crisis that had occupied Lebanon since October 17, 2019. This happened precisely during the time period that witnessed a decline in the size of popular demonstrations and an increase in the number of Lebanese standing in front of the banks’ doors begging for their money that they were told is no longer available.
Now we have before us a document claiming that Riad Salame’s wealth exceeds two billion dollars, at the very least. The topic is more than tempting.
Mr. Salamé has been the governor of the Banque du Liban for more than 25 years. He is the one in charge of the monetary policy; including accumulated debt, financial engineering, capital control , failure to pay the Eurobond benefits, and the “haircut” policies. A document was found stating that his wealth amounts to more than two billion dollars, while the Lebanese are bankrupt and living in a bankrupt state!
He is, undoubtedly, not only the one responsible, but a key partner in the situation. The first challenge was to determine who prepared the document, which we had not yet managed to discover. For weeks, we introduced the document to economic, legal, political, diplomatic, and security sources in Beirut and Paris. They all agreed on the relevance and importance of the document, without being able to identify it’s source. However, due to the language used in the document, the consensus was that it was prepared by a private investigation firm, possibly commissioned by another party for political or personal reasons.
When we tried to align our information with our colleagues’ in international institutions, we were able to verify some details in the document, but the source remained unidentified; so the report could not be published, despite the amazing details gathered in it.
The pace of our investigations slackened due to the emergence of the ‘Coronavirus’, which seemed to be an ally to the authority in Lebanon, exacerbating its economic crisis.
In light of our new priorities within the ‘Coronavirus’ times―we could have forgotten about the issue of the anonymous document which was disclosed by Riad Salamé, the governor of the Banque du Liban. The truth is that we would have delayed the research, had it not been for the successive steps taken by Salamé.
In the beginning, in the context of the deterioration of the economic situation and its implications, including announcing that 50% of the Lebanese are now living under the poverty line, Salamé decided to issue a statement announcing that Ms. Marianne Al-Hoayek was appointed a distinguished consultant for the Banque du Liban. A few hours later, an Anonymous Twitter account started posting details about the foreign-bank accounts of Salamé, his brother Raja, and Marianne Hoayek.
Once again, our investigation could have stopped at that point. Those Twitter leaks were based on the same anonymous document, but Salamé’s MTV interview clarified the situation; He said that the document was prepared by the International Cristal Credit Group, which is notorious for its fake reports. Salamé also announced the name of the company’s director, Kevin Rivaton, and that its central headquarters were in Lyon, in France.
For the first time in weeks, we got a hold of a clue of the entity that prepared the report. Until the moment of the writing of this article, we have not been able to contact Rivaton to enquire about the subject, but deep preliminary research revealed information that contradicts Salamé’s description of the company. Contrary to what he said, the available information about the company shows its perceived credibility; it was founded in 1997 in Lyon, France, but now has branches in more than 10 countries, including Britain, Hong Kong and the USA. Recently, in 2016, they opened branches in Ivory Coast and Mexico. It’s official presence in France, abiding with French law and the fact that it was never incriminated by the French authorities, makes the claim that they are known for fabricated information and documents very weak.
Of course some things may need some more investigation and examination, but the company’s list of partners and customers, including the American-French Commerce Chamber, and other international organizations, does not imply that the reputation of the company is bad, as our central bank governor has claimed.
Salamé did not stop at that point either; In another interview on MTV, he informed the public that he’d inherited a fortune of more than 23 million dollars, before he was appointed governor of the Banque du Liban. Salamé said he will legally take action against that company, and we will be following the legal action closely.
We will not prosecute him, as this is not our role. Our decision to publish the whole document was for the purpose of declaring it to the public, after Salamé himself announced its presence, but we are not sure whether it is fake, or if at least part of it is forged.
We will not prosecute Salamé. We will not be part of a campaign against him alone, without his other accomplices in corruption. We will wait, along with all the Lebanese people, for the legal action that will be taken, but we will not applaud him, like other major Lebanese media outlets have done, either.
The Role of the Judiciary
With all the rest of the Lebanese, we will wait for the judiciary to play its role, while we, as journalists, ask the real questions, and look for convincing answers that do not undermine our readers’ intelligence. During our research to reveal the entity which had prepared the document, we were able to acquire information that raises many questions about the governor who was about to become president, not too long ago.
This was not difficult to achieve, and the details of Wikileaks documents confirm this, but that’s a topic for another day.
The millions Salamé said he had earned or inherited, are not enough to justify the lifestyle he is living. Billionaires, and not millionaires, are the only ones who can organize their children’s weddings in classified palaces, like Castel of Rambouillet, one of the most famous historical palaces in France, which was one of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s favorite recreational places, and later became the summer abode of French presidents.
The questions are not limited to Salamé’s lifestyle, but will also become more urgent when it comes to his way of managing one of the country’s most important public institutions, especially within its current responsibility for the bankruptcy of the country and its citizens.
Why did he decide to return Marianne Hoayek to the Banque du Liban under such circumstances? Why was she hired, to start with, 20 years ago? In an interview for the British magazine Bespoke, al-Hoayek spoke confidently about her special relationship with the governor, and mentioned the details about the internship she got at the Banque du Liban before even getting her Masters degree, and how the governor asked her not to attend college and to remain an employee at the Banque.
At that time, Marianne was under 25 years old, and her academic achievements were mediocre. She hardly had any work experience, and yet, Salamé appointed her to the mission of restructuring Banque du Liban.
This may not be the starting point of this story, but it is undoubtedly a suitable starting point to ask a few questions, without the need for any documents, whether authentic or fabricated.