The coronavirus pandemic and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August have further devastated the economy.
Estimates put the central bank’s losses at between $ 50 billion and $ 60 billion. The International Monetary Fund has offered help, but Lebanese officials accuse Salameh of blocking an audit requested by the United States and other countries that would unlock IMF aid, as well as a separate investigation on suspected central bank fraud.
Most Lebanese said goodbye to the savings they had as the currency collapsed, cutting wages worth $ 1,000 a month to around $ 80. The central bank burns its reserves, spending around $ 500 million a month to subsidize imports of fuel, medicine and grain.
“Lebanon has lived on borrowed time, and now the chickens have returned home to roost,” said Toufic Gaspard, Lebanese economist and former IMF adviser. “The whole banking system collapsed and we became a money economy.”
The crash has soured many Lebanese over their once famous central banker.
â€œI can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,â€ said Toufic Khueiri, co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, having lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money is not blocked in the banks, it is simply stolen.”
His friend Roger Tanios, a lawyer, said he once admired Mr Salameh for maintaining Lebanon’s financial stability, but changed his mind.
Mr. Salameh, he said, had made a dramatic deviation.
â€œEvery country has its mafia,â€ Tanios said. â€œIn Lebanon, the mafia has its country.
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut and Liz Alderman from Paris. Hwaida Saad contributed to Beirut reporting, and Asmaa al-Omar from Istanbul.