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Lebanon’s central bank chief says he will not renew term

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Efforts to find a successor to Riad Salameh have been hamstrung by Lebanon's breakdown in governance and intensifying political tensions

Lebanon’s embattled central bank chief Riad Salameh has said he will leave his post once his latest term ends in July, even if he is asked to stay longer.

“No one has asked me to continue [as central bank chief] but even if they do, I think this is enough,” he said in a televised interview with Egypt’s AlQahera News.

Salameh, who became the head of the central bank in 1993, has come under increased scrutiny both at home and abroad since Lebanon’s financial system began unraveling in 2019.

The collapse has locked most savers out of their bank accounts and pushed more than 80 percent of Lebanon’s population below the poverty line.

Salameh, meanwhile, is being investigated in Lebanon and abroad for alleged embezzlement. Lebanon’s finance minister has said Salameh would be difficult to replace once his term ends.

On Sunday, Salameh said the economic crisis was due to ongoing political instability and that inadequate foreign currency reserves had prompted parallel exchange rates.

Earlier this month, Lebanon officially devalued the national currency for the first time in more than two decades to 15,000 pounds to the US dollar, a 90 percent devaluation from the previous peg of 1,507.

That still lies far off the parallel market, which has hovered around a record-breaking 80,000 pounds to the US dollar over the last week.

Salameh on Sunday said Lebanon’s foreign exchange reserves currently measured at $10 billion and that he was in favour of unifying all exchange rates – one of the preconditions set out by the International Monetary Fund for Lebanon to get access to $3 billion in relief funds.

Those preconditions also included an audit of the central bank’s foreign asset position, which includes gold.

Salameh said on Sunday that Lebanon’s gold reserves were valued at $17 billion.

The central bank had announced in November 2022 that a “specialised and professional international auditing firm” had completed an audit of the gold reserves but had not announced its value.