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Lebanon receives Interpol notice for its central bank governor who was no-show at Paris questioning

FILE - Riad Salameh, Lebanon's Central Bank governor, smiles during a press conference in Beirut, on Nov. 11, 2019. Salameh did not appear before French prosecutors for questioning in Paris, Tuesday May 16, 2023 in an ongoing European probe into alleged money-laundering and illicit enrichment. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon on Friday received an Interpol notice for the country's embattled central bank governor who failed to show up in Paris earlier in the week for questioning in a key corruption case, officials said.

France, Germany, and Luxembourg are investigating the governor, Riad Salameh, and his associates over myriad financial crimes, including illicit enrichment and the laundering of $330 million. A French investigative judge on Tuesday issued an international arrest warrant for Salameh after he did not answer summons for questioning in Paris.

However, Lebanon is unlikely to comply with the Interpol notice and arrest and hand over Salameh to French authorities. Under the country's laws, Lebanon does not extradite its own citizens. In 2020, it received two Interpol red notices for tycoon Carlos Ghosn, who faced financial misconduct charges in Japan. Ghosn remains in Lebanon.

Interpol listed Salameh's notice on its website, adding that he is wanted by France for “criminal conspiracy with intent to commit offenses punishable by ten years of prison”, “organized money laundering”, and aggravated tax fraud.

The Lebanese Interior Ministry confirmed receiving the Interpol Red Notice, but did not comment on possible actions against Salameh. The judicial officials who spoke to The Associated Press about the notice did so on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

Salameh denies allegations of corruption, and maintains that he amassed his wealth through his previous job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments. He said he would only resign if convicted of a crime.

On Friday, Salameh reiterated that he intends to appeal the Interpol notice because he did not receive the summons for questioning in Paris in person, “according to the rules and laws.” The Central Bank returned the summons, which had arrived while Salameh was absent from the bank, according to judicial officials.

“I am introducing an appeal to cancel the notice,” Salameh told the AP.

The 72-year-old governor has held his post for almost 30 years, but says he intends to step down after his current term ends in July.

The three European governments in March 2022 froze over $130 million in assets linked to the probe. During a visit to Lebanon in March, the European delegation questioned Salameh about the Lebanese central bank’s assets and investments outside the country, a Paris apartment — which the governor owns — and his brother Raja Salameh’s brokerage firm Forry Associates Ltd.

Once hailed as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, Salameh since late 2019 has been heavily blamed for Lebanon’s financial meltdown. Many say he precipitated the economic crisis, which has plunged three-quarters of Lebanon’s population of 6 million into poverty.