Lebanese banks closing 3 days amid assaults by angry depositors

BEIRUT, 17 Sept 2022:

The Association of Banks in Lebanon yesterday said all branches will be closed for three days next week after multiple banks have been held up by depositors’ demanding their money back.

Branches will be shuttered Sept 19-21 to “protest” the violence, the association’s board said in a statement.

Bassam Mawlawi, interior minister in Lebanon’s caretaker government, convened an emergency meeting of the Central Council for Internal Security to discuss steps to address the bank assaults, his office said.

Due to an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that took hold in 2019, Lebanese banks have sharply restricted depositors’ ability to withdraw funds in foreign currency, especially in US dollars.

In most cases, a depositor seeking to withdraw money from a US dollar-denominated account will only be able to obtain funds in Lebanese currency, whose value has plummeted by 95%.

Lebanese news agency NNA reported that at least seven banks were assaulted Friday, beginning with a branch in the Ghazieh district of Sidon.

The episode in Ghazieh ended with the arrest of a man, identified only as MQ, who entered a branch of Byblos Bank “with a military weapon” and threatened to the burn down the building if he didn’t get his money.

Other heists have followed a similar pattern, according to NAA, which said the depositors are often cheered on by dozens of people standing outside.

“The operation to liberate deposits has begun,” a member of the organisation Depositors’ Outcry, Ibrahim Abdullah, said in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page. “This revolution is against all the banks.”

The first incident took place Aug 11 at a branch in Beirut where a man demanded his money to pay for treatment of his ailing father.

He surrendered to police after obtaining US$30,000 in US dollars and spent four days in custody before being released because the bank declined to press charges.