Crisis-hit Lebanon launches central bank audit


Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon on Wednesday launched a forensic audit of the central bank, in line with a long-standing request of donors, an outgoing minister said, as the country suffers its worst economic crisis in decades.

"Today the first phase of the forensic audit started," caretaker finance minister Ghazi Wazni said in a statement.

It would involve New York-based firm Alvaro and Marsal presenting the minister with "a preliminary compilation of information requested from the central bank... within the next 24 hours", he said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and France are among those demanding the audit as part of urgent reforms to unlock desperately needed financial aid.

Earlier this month, as French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon for a second time since its devastating port blast, Wazni signed a deal for Alvarez and Marsal to handle a forensic audit of the central bank.

Two other companies, KPMG and Oliver Wyman, were hired to conduct traditional audits of the financial institution.

Wazni said the three firms would form teams to start work "very soon".

Lebanon's worst economic crunch since the 1975-1990 war has seen the local currency plummet against the US dollar, and poverty double to more than half of the population.

The country for the first time defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, before launching into talks with the IMF towards unlocking billions of dollars in aid.

But by July these talks had stalled, and several members of the Lebanese negotiating team had resigned amid disagreements over the scale of total financial losses.

The government has blamed central bank governor Riad Salameh for the crisis, though the latter has rejected all charges.

Pressure for reforms has mounted since the August 4 explosion at the port that killed more than 190 people, reignited popular anger -- also against the central bank -- and led the government to resign.

A prime minister-designate has been tasked with forming a new government.