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Lebanon charges banker, money changers in currency crisis probe

By AFP - May 21,2020 - Last updated at May 21,2020

A view of the fortified entrance of the Banque du Liban, Lebanon's central bank, in the capital Beirut, on May 20 (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — A Lebanese prosecutor on Thursday charged a bank manager and money changers with manipulating the exchange rate and money laundering in an ongoing currency crisis probe, official media and judicial sources said.

      Lebanon is in the midst of its worst economic crunch in decades, compounded by a coronavirus lockdown.

      Banks have gradually stopped all dollar withdrawals in recent months, and the local currency has plummeted from 1,507 to more than 4,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market.

      "Financial prosecutor Ali Ibrahim charged the deputy head of the money changers' union Elie S., as well as a number of senior money changers... and a bank employee, with the crimes of violating the money changing law and money laundering", among other charges, the National News Agency said.

      Their cases have been referred to an investigative judge, it said.

      Judicial sources told AFP nine people in total faced the same charges, also including "manipulating the exchange rate".

      Among them were a branch manager at the Societe Generale de Banque au Liban (SGBL) bank accused of supplying dollars to money changers, and an employee at a money transfer company over the alleged channelling of funds abroad, the sources said.

      Lebanon has detained dozens of foreign exchange office employees in recent weeks over the fast depreciating pound, including the head of the money changers' union Mahmoud Mrad at the start of the month.

      The investigation has also seen the first charges against a senior central bank employee in the case.

      On Monday, the director of monetary operations at the central bank, Mazen Hamdane, was charged with "manipulating the national currency and breaching the pound's stability through directly buying dollars from money changers", a judicial source said.

      Late last week, the central bank issued a statement denying it was behind "any manipulation in the money changing market".



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