International Demand

Bank robberies snowball in Lebanon as depositors demand their own money

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  • Five other depositors rob banks to access their money
  • Depositors collect $60,000, only some are in custody
  • Banks have announced a three-day closure for security reasons
  • Frustration with frozen savings, crisis spiral

BEIRUT, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Five Lebanese banks were blocked by depositors seeking access to their own money frozen in the banking system on Friday, in a series of spiraling blockades this week, spurred by frustration over a financial implosion with no end in sight.

Seven banks have been blocked since Wednesday in Lebanon, where commercial banks have blocked most depositors of their savings since an economic crisis set in three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay expenses basic.

On Friday morning, a gunman identified as Abed Soubra entered BLOM bank in the capital’s Tariq Jdideh district to demand his deposit, the bank told Reuters.

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He then turned his gun over to security forces but remained locked in the bank after dark, negotiating with bank officials to withdraw his $300,000 in cash savings, he told Reuters .

Soubra eventually left the bank with no money in a settlement brokered by an influential sheikh, local media reported. He was not taken into custody.

Throughout the day he had been cheered on by large crowds of people gathered outside, including Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who carried out a heist in August to obtain his own deposits from his bank, which dropped the 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 have no other option,” Hussein said.

BANKS ARE WORTH MY SHOE

The Depositors’ Union, an advocacy group set up to help customers access their funds, described Friday’s heist frenzy as ‘depositors’ uprising’ and a ‘natural and justified reaction’ to bank restrictions .

The Lebanese Banking Association announced a three-day shutdown next week for security reasons and urged the government to pass laws to deal with the crisis.

Authorities have been slow to pass reforms that would provide access to $3 billion from the International Monetary Fund and on Friday failed to pass a 2022 budget.

Without a capital control law, banks have imposed unilateral limits on what most depositors can collect each week in US dollars or the Lebanese lira, which has lost more than 95% of its value since 2019.

The other four heists on Friday ended in partial payouts with a total of $60,000 in cash handed over to the attackers, most of whom were arrested while one went into hiding.

Jawad Slim entered a branch of the LGB Bank in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Bayda neighborhood on Friday morning.

As night fell, he agreed with the bank to walk away with US$15,000 and a check for $35,000 that he could cash on a haircut, his brother told local media.

Security forces took him into custody, but it was not immediately clear what charges would be brought.

Separately, Lebanese citizen Mohammad al-Moussawi obtained $20,000 in cash from his account at the Banque Libano-Française after threatening employees with a fake weapon.

“This banking system is cheating on us and it’s worth my shoe,” he said, telling Reuters he was going into hiding. The BLF confirmed that the incident took place.

In the fifth incident on Friday afternoon, a former member of the army obtained $25,000 in cash from his account at a BankMed branch outside Beirut after firing shots inside the branch and threatened to kill himself if he didn’t get the full amount, an industry source told Reuters.

The source said the man gave the money to his mother and was later arrested by security forces.

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Reporting by Timour Azhari, Laila Bassam and Issam Abdallah; Written by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean, Toby Chopra and Richard Chang

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