Najib Mikati
Najib Mikati Image Credit: Bloomberg

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday that actions taken by some judges were heightening tensions in Lebanon, warning of potentially serious consequences for a country mired in a major financial collapse.

His statement followed judicial orders since March 14 that froze the assets of seven banks in three separate legal actions.

On Thursday, the brother of the central bank governor was arrested on a charge of “complicity in illicit enrichment” in a case a judicial source said also involved Governor Riad Salameh.

A lawyer for Raja Salameh declined to comment on the case on Friday, while the office of Riad Salameh’s lawyer said he was not available for comment.

Without referring to any specific case, Mikati said the course of action taken by some judges was “pushing towards ominous tensions, and there are attempts to use this tension in election campaigns,” referring to a parliamentary election in May.

“This is a dangerous matter we have previously warned against,” Mikati said, in a statement from his office.

Mikati has previously offered public support to Governor Salameh, who faces embezzlement probes at home and abroad, saying in December “one does not change their officers during a war”. Salameh has denied any wrongdoing.

Mikati and Justice Minister Henry Khoury agreed to ask the country’s public prosecutor to take “appropriate measures on this (issue)”, the statement said, without specifying what issue or elaborating on the measures.

Ghada Aoun, the judge who ordered Raja Salameh’s arrest and froze the assets of six banks this month, is politically backed by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), founded by President Michel Aoun.

The FPM has sought the removal of Governor Salameh, who has described accusations against him as politically motivated.

He faces investigations in Lebanon and at least five European countries including Switzerland over allegations of money laundering and embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars at the central bank - investigations in which his younger brother Raja is also implicated.

Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic crisis after successive governments piled up debt. Savers have been locked out of dollar accounts or told that funds they can access are now worth a fraction of their original value. The currency has crashed, driving a swathe of the population into poverty.