A high-profile judge in Lebanon who is investigating the country’s central bank governor over corruption allegations was removed from office on Thursday, the latest hurdle in Lebanon’s protracted quest for accountability over its financial meltdown.
Judge Ghada Aoun, who is pursuing multiple corruption probes against senior Lebanese political figures and members of the financial establishment amid an economic crisis that began in 2019, said she was dismissed over accusations of bias.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Aoun told reporters after leaving a hearing held by the judiciary’s disciplinary council.
Aoun later told the Financial Times she would appeal against the decision which, if upheld, would mean she was barred from working as a judge. She said she would continue work on the investigations she is leading until the appeal is heard.
The reasons for her dismissal were not publicly disclosed and the justice ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To date, no one has been held accountable for Lebanon’s financial implosion, which the World Bank called a “deliberate depression orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents”.
The crisis has wrecked the country’s banking sector and plunged more than three-quarters of the population into poverty, while its currency has lost more than 95 per cent of its value against the dollar since 2019.
Speaking outside the palace of justice in Beirut on Thursday, Aoun said: “This country is oppressed. People are dying of hunger. They don’t have the means to get medical treatment. Where is the judiciary? that dared to open up cases.”
She said her pursuit of justice had been vindicated by the international community which was replicating her efforts to investigate central bank governor Riad Salameh. Aside from Aoun’s probe, at least five European countries are investigating accusations that Salameh and his brother Raja Salameh misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars and laundered some of the proceeds abroad.
Aoun’s ousting was met by anger in Lebanon, which has been led by a paralysed caretaker government and without a president since October. Nizar Saghieh, who leads Lebanese judicial watchdog Legal Agenda, wrote on Twitter that Thursday’s decision was a “heartbreaking message” for a judge who has attempted to tackle corruption.
Aoun’s dismissal came as Raja Salameh was questioned in front of a team of European investigators in Beirut.
The Salameh brothers have denied any wrongdoing. Riad Salameh has said the international probes are part of a smear campaign designed to scapegoat him for Lebanon’s financial implosion.
Aoun has frequently found herself in the spotlight in recent years, over her pursuit of senior Lebanese political figures unaccustomed to public scrutiny.
Her pugnacious approach — including when she joined highly publicised raids on offices of companies she was investigating — has landed her in front of the disciplinary council before. She has also been dogged by accusations of bias, as she was known to be close to ex- President Michel Aoun — the two are not related — and his Free Patriotic Movement party.
Aoun has frequently clashed in public with her opponents, including Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati, who last year accused her of taking “populist” decisions that “cause tensions in the country”. She also refused to comply with the state prosecutor’s decision to bar her from cases linked to financial misdeeds.
Her dismissal was the latest episode to shake Lebanon’s judiciary, long riven by divisions and allegations of political interference. Earlier this year, tensions burst into the open over the stalled investigation into the August 2020 Beirut port blast, which killed more than 200 people and levelled swaths of the capital, after a judge restarted the probe and brought fresh charges against prominent political figures.