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French Version

Pressure still on Al-Madina results of investigation coming soon (Daily Star)

Pressure still on Al-Madina results of investigation coming soon
State prosecutor’s case ‘separate to Central Bank money laundering probe’

The Central Bank’s Special Committee on Money Laundering is still looking into charges against some individuals involved in the troubled Al-Madina Bank, the Central Bank’s governor, Riad Salameh, said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at the Central Bank’s headquarters in Beirut, Salameh said that the results of the investigation would be soon disclosed.

The committee was established three years ago to investigate money laundering activities in Lebanon. Salameh added, however, that the investigations into Al-Madina Bank did not concern the Central Bank.

Al-Madina Bank is suspected of money laundering activities, embezzling funds, counterfeiting documents and breaching the money and credit law. Sources said the bank issued over $350 million in bad checks to customers.

The Central Bank promptly stepped in and appointed a temporary general manager to ensure that all deposits were returned to their owners.

Hotels and prime properties in landmark locations belonging to the chairman of the bank and some of his clients were re-possessed by the Central Bank in order to liquidate them.

The governor said that the bulk of the money has been retrieved and depositors were getting 10 percent of their money each month. This is a process that is expected to last for another few months.

Andre Bandali, the temporary general manager of Al-Madina, has filed charges against many suspects. Ahmed Ali Ahmed had filed a law suit against the owner of the bank for writing a $21 million check without provision.

Salameh asked the state prosecutor last month to send back the file of Al-Madina after most deposits were retrieved from the owner of the bank Adnan Abu Ayyash.

The sudden and unexpected closure of the case caused a public outcry among many politicians and bankers, who wondered why the owner of the bank and other individuals were not detained.

Ibrahim Abu Ayyash, the vice chairman of Al-Madina, is currently in police custody at the request of State Prosecutor Adnan Addoum.

However, the chairman of the bank, Adnan Abu Ayyash, is still in Saudi Arabia despite many appeals to repatriate him to Lebanon.

On Thursday, Assistant State Prosecutor Rabiaa Qaddoura questioned the manager of the bank’s Hamra branch, Iman Daher, in addition to the heads of the bank’s departments, including Joumana Abdel-Baqi, Youssef Hashi and Kazem Bahlawan.

They were all interrogated in the case of violating the Monetary and Credit Law, forfeiting notices and granting loans without guarantees or with illusionary guarantees.

According to a source, they all denied knowledge of any of the aforementioned crimes, so the judge decided to release them pending investigation.

At the news conference, Salameh expressed doubt that the owner of Al-Madina would keep his bank even if the case against him is closed.

Among the few scenarios that the Central Bank will be considering in the future is either liquidating Al-Madina or merging it with another bank.

Salameh stressed that the case had no impact on the Lebanese banking sector, which has an annual growth of 15 percent each year. He added that in the month of August alone, the balance of payment recorded a surplus of $271 million. “Our main concern is to retrieve the money of depositors irrespective of the results of the courts,” Salameh said. But the governor refused to speculate on the outcome of the investigation.

Salameh said the Central Bank will release the names of all the properties that were repossessed from the Abu Ayyash family and other clients.

Taha Qoleilat, a prominent businessman, is one of the key suspects in the Al-Madina case. Most of Qoleilat’s properties, including the Sheraton Coral Beach hotel, were repossessed by the Central Bank.

Beirut 29-09-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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