The Business Times

Bank hold-ups snowball in Lebanon as depositors demand their own money

Published Fri, Sep 16, 2022 · 07:25 PM

3 Lebanese banks were held up by depositors seeking access to their own money frozen in the banking system on Friday, adding to a spate of hold-ups this week spurred by frustration over a spiralling financial implosion with no end in sight.

Lebanon has been battered by its worst-ever economic crisis since the financial sector went into meltdown in 2019. The local currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value on the black market, as poverty and unemployment have soared.

A man with a gun that turned out to be a toy was arrested after holding up a Lebanese bank in the southern city of Ghazieh, a security source said.

Also on Friday morning, an armed man entered a branch of BLOM bank in the Lebanese capital’s Tariq al-Jdideh neighbourhood seeking his deposit, the bank told Reuters in a statement, adding that the situation was under control.

The man, identified as Abed Soubra, was cheered on by a large crowd of people gathered outside - a scene that has played out at several such incidents.

“He’s a merchant and he’s in the right and he could go to jail because people need money from him. What should he do? Go to jail because people need money from him while he has money in the bank?“ local resident Rabih Kojok said from outside the bank.


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In a third incident, a man armed with a pellet gun entered a branch of LGB Bank in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Bayda area seeking to withdraw some US$50,000 dollars in savings, a bank employee said, adding the situation was continuing and that employees and customers were stuck inside.

It was at least the fifth such incident this week.

Lebanese banks would soon announce a three-day closure next week over mounting security concerns, two bankers told Reuters.

The country’s banks have locked most depositors out of their savings since an economic crisis took hold three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay for basics.

The capital controls were never formalised by law but courts have been slow to rule on depositors’ attempts to obtain savings via litigation against banks, leading some to seek alternative ways of getting their money.

One man on Friday was able to retrieve a portion of his funds from the Ghazieh branch of Byblos Bank before being arrested, the source said, adding that the weapon in his possession was believed to be a toy.

Byblos Bank could not immediately be reached for comment.

Security forces were negotiating with Soubra, the man who entered a BLOM bank branch in Beirut, to secure his exit from the building, BLOM said, adding they believed he had handed over his weapon to security forces.

Friday’s incidents followed two others in the capital of Beirut and in the town of Aley on Wednesday in which depositors were able to access a portion of their funds by force, using toy pistols mistaken for real weapons.

Lebanon’s banking association urged authorities on Thursday to hold accountable those engaging in “verbal and physical attacks” on banks and said lenders themselves would not be lenient.

Last month, a man was detained after he held up a Beirut bank to withdraw funds to treat his sick father but was released without charge after the bank dropped its lawsuit against him. REUTERS



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