BEIRUT: Lebanese bankers have declared a three-day closure of branches, starting Monday, after being hit by a deluge of intrusions from angry depositors demanding access to their frozen savings, reports Arab News.
Bassam Mawlawi, the caretaker minister of interior, has also called for an emergency meeting of the Central Security Council to discuss the security measures that can be taken in light of the increasing bank storming incidents.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon, in a statement, said the closure of banks was being undertaken to take the necessary regulatory measures as well as in consideration of the safety of customers.
The group rejected violence in any form and stressed that the solution was “to pass laws to address the crisis as quickly as possible.”
Five banks were held up by depositors yesterday, in a spiralling spate of hold-ups this week spurred by frustration over a financial implosion with no end in sight.
Seven banks have been held up since Wednesday in Lebanon, where commercial 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.
Yesterday morning, an armed man identified as Abed Soubra entered BLOM Bank in the capital’s Tariq Al Jadida neighbourhood demanding his deposit, the bank told Reuters.
He later handed his gun to security forces but remained locked in the bank past sunset, negotiating with bank officials.
Soubra said he had a refused the bank’s offer to take a portion of his $300,000 in savings with a significant haircut, in the deteriorating local Lebanese currency.
“I’ll stay here three, four, five days,” he told Reuters by phone. “I deposited by money in dollars, I want them back in dollars.”
Soubra was cheered on by a large crowd of people gathered outside, including Bassam Al Sheikh Hussein, who carried out a hold-up in August to get his own deposits from his bank, which dropped charges against him.
“We’re going to keep seeing this happen as long as people have money inside. What do you want them to do? They don’t have another solution,” said Hussein.
The Depositors’ Union, an advocacy group established to help clients get access to their funds, described Friday’s spree of hold-ups as “the depositors’ uprising” and a “natural and justified reaction” to banks’ restrictions.
Authorities have been slow to pass reforms that would grant access to $3 billion from the International Monetary Fund, and yesterday failed to pass a 2022 budget.
Without a capital controls law, banks have imposed unilateral limits on the amounts most depositors can retrieve each week in US dollars or the Lebanese lira, which has lost more than 95 per cent of its value since 2019.
The four other hold-ups yesterday concluded in partial pay-outs with a total of $60,000 cash given to the assailants, most of whom were arrested while one went into hiding.
Jawad Slim entered a branch of LGB Bank in Beirut’s Ramlet Al Bayda area yesterday morning.
By nightfall, he agreed with the bank to leave with $15,000 in US dollars and a cheque for $35,000 which he could cash in at a haircut, his brother told local media.
Security forces took him into custody but it was not immediately clear what charges would be pressed.
Separately, Lebanese citizen Mohammad Al Moussawi got $20,000 in cash from his account at the Banque Libano-Francaise bank after threatening employees with a fake gun.
“This banking system is tricking us and it’s worth my shoe,” he said, telling Reuters he would be going into hiding. BLF confirmed the incident took place.
In the fifth incident yesterday afternoon, a former member of the military got $25,000 in cash from his account at a BankMed branch outside of Beirut after firing shots inside the branch and threatening to commit suicide if he did not get the full amount, an industry source told Reuters.
The source said the man handed the money to his mother and was subsequently detained by security forces.