File - Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh during a press conference at the bank's headquarters, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh voiced his full support Tuesday for bank consolidation in Lebanon, provided that there were no mergers or acquisitions among the country's 11 leading lenders.Salameh said that the only known acquisition or merger this year had been Fransabank's acquisition of Amman-based Al-Ahli bank, adding that he had not received any official request from any bank seeking to exit the market.The governor vehemently denied some media reports that the Americans had urged him during the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington to reduce the number of banks operating in the country from 72 to 25 through consolidations and mergers. Salameh also commented on the decision by the Special Investigation Commission, which was created more than 10 years ago by the government to combat money laundering and terrorist funding, to freeze the bank accounts of furniture and design company Le Cercle Hitti on suspicion of money laundering, hinting that this step had been taken after Lebanon received a request from abroad.Salameh also revealed that foreign investors were keen to subscribe in the next eurobond issue and were eagerly waiting for Parliament to authorize the government to tap the market for foreign-currency-denominated bonds.Salameh also repeated that the Central Bank was ready to intervene in the market to block any attempt to increase interest rates.
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