Lebanese judge orders 'protective freeze' on assets of c.bank governor


By Laila Bassam

BEIRUT, July 20 (Reuters) - A Lebanese judge on Monday ordered a protective freeze on some assets held by central bank governor Riad Salameh after ruling in favour of a complaint that he had allegedly undermined the financial standing of the state, the national news agency reported.

Salameh, who has headed Lebanon's central bank since 1993, said he had no comment on the case in a written reply to a message from Reuters.

The complaint against him was brought by a group of lawyers including Hassan Bazzi, who said in front of the court of justice to reporters on Monday that the ruling by judge Faisal Makki was for "all the oppressed, the poor, and (bank) depositors".

It was not immediately clear if the ruling, which covers assets including property, would be implemented. Rights campaigners have questioned the independence of the judiciary in the country, which is riven by deep sectarian and political divisions.

An acute financial and banking crisis is widely viewed as the biggest threat to Lebanon's stability since the 1975-90 civil war. The Lebanese pound has lost around 80% of its value since October and some savers have been shut out of their bank accounts.

Once regarded as a pillar of banking stability, Salameh has become a focus of anger for street protesters since the financial system collapsed under the weight of one of the world's biggest public debt burdens.

Critics say his policies led the banking system into crisis while Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office in January with support from Iran-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah and its allies, has blamed Salameh for the collapse of the pound.

Salameh has said that while the central bank had financed the government, it was not responsible for spending the funds or failing to enact agreed reforms. He said in April he was being targeted in a "systematic campaign".

(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

((suleiman.al-khalidi@thomsonreuters.com; +96279-5521407;))

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