As Lebanon Collapses, the Man With an Iron Grip on Its Funds Faces Questions


The coronavirus pandemic and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August have further devastated the economy.

The central bank is estimated to have lost $ 50 billion to $ 60 billion. The International Monetary Fund has offered aid, but Lebanese officials accuse Mr Salameh of blocking an examination requested by the United States and other countries that would unlock IMF aid, as well as a separate investigation into alleged central bank fraud.

Most Lebanese have said goodbye to any savings they had during the currency crash and cut their salaries from $ 1,000 a month to around $ 80. The central bank is burning its reserves and spending about $ 500 million a month to subsidize imports of fuel, medicines, and grain.

“Lebanon lived on borrowed time and now the chickens have come home to sleep,” said Toufic Gaspard, a Lebanese economist and former advisor to the IMF. “The whole banking system has collapsed and we have become a cash economy.”

The crash has embittered many Lebanese against their once celebrated central banker.

“I can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,” said Toufic Khoueiri, co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, over lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money is not in the banks, it is simply stolen.”

His friend Roger Tanios, a lawyer, said he once admired Mr Salameh for keeping Lebanon financially stable but changed his mind.

Mr Salameh, he said, was spectacularly off course.

“Every country has its mafia,” said Mr Tanios. “The mafia has its land in Lebanon.”

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut and Liz Alderman from Paris. Hwaida Saad contributed the reporting from Beirut and Asmaa al-Omar from Istanbul.