As Lebanon Collapses, Man With An Iron Grip In His Finances Confronts

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coronavirus pandemic and Big explosion in Beirut port Last August further devastated the economy.

Estimates put the central bank’s losses from $50 billion to $60 billion. The International Monetary Fund offered help, but Lebanese officials accuse Mr. Salameh of obstructing an audit requested by the United States and other countries that would unlock IMF assistance, as well as a separate investigation into the alleged fraud at the central bank.

Most Lebanese said goodbye to the savings they had when the currency collapsed, cutting salaries from $1,000 a month to around $80. The central bank is depleting its reserves, spending about $500 million a month subsidizing imports of fuel, pharmaceuticals and grains.

Lebanese economist and former IMF adviser Toufic Gaspard said: “Lebanon is living with borrowed time and now the chickens have come to roost in the nest,” he said. “The whole banking system has collapsed and we have become a cash economy.”

The accident angered many Lebanese once famous central bankers.

“I can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,” said Toufic Khoueiri, co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, while having lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money isn’t stuck in banks, it’s just stolen.”

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

“Mr. Salameh,” he said, deviating spectacularly from course.

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

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut and Liz Alderman from Paris. Hwaida Saad Contributing reports from Beirut and Asma al-Omar From Istanbul.

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