BEIRUT (AP) — The chief of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group on Friday called on the country’s central bank governor to resign amid mounting legal troubles.
The governor, Riad Salameh, should either step down or be stripped of his responsibilities, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, said in a televised speech commemorating the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
On Wednesday, Salameh was questioned by a Lebanese judge and his Lebanese and French passports were confiscated, following an arrest warrant from France over corruption charges. He is a dual citizen.
The development effectively prevents Salameh from traveling abroad. Lebanon does not extradite its citizens to foreign countries or international tribunals.
“In Hezbollah, we believe that there are two options. The first is for the governor to step down of his own volition,” Nasrallah said. The second, he said, is for the judiciary to take legal steps against Salameh and relieve from from his post.
Nasrallah’s remarks were the first time he called for Salameh’s resignation. A number of government officials have made similar calls but a Monday meeting of the Cabinet did not come up with a formal decision.
France, Germany and Luxembourg are investigating Salameh and his associates over myriad alleged financial crimes, including illicit enrichment and laundering of $330 million. A French investigative judge on May 16 issued an international arrest warrant, followed by an Interpol red notice, for the 72-year-old Salameh after he failed to show up in Paris for questioning.
Once seen as the guardian of Lebanon’s financial stability, Salameh is now widely blamed for an economic meltdown that began in 2019. The Lebanese pound has since plummeted in value and wiped out much of the savings of ordinary Lebanese, plunging an estimated three-quarters of the population into poverty.
Salameh, who is also under investigation in Lebanon, has repeatedly denied all corruption allegations, saying he made his wealth from his years working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, inherited properties, and investments. He said he would only resign if convicted of a crime. He also said last week he plans to appeal the Interpol red notice.
Salameh has held his post for almost 30 years, but says he intends to step down after his current term ends in July.