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Lebanon: Ex-ambassador among depositors who held up four banks for frozen funds

Clients who stormed banks included a retired police officer, a former diplomat, electricity employees, and a debtor
Lebanon's security forces deployed at a bank branch held up by an angry depositor demanding access to his savings in Tyre, 4 October 2022 (AFP)

At least four commercial banks in Lebanon were stormed on Tuesday by depositors, including a former ambassador, who were demanding to access their frozen funds.

The other bank customers involved in the stormings and armed hold-ups were a retired police officer, a debtor and electricity employees. 

In the Beqaa valley town of Chtaura, Ali al-Saheli stormed a branch of BLC Bank, armed with a gun and grenade, and asked to be paid back his $24,000 in savings. Saheli is a retired officer in Lebanon's Internal Security services.

Depositors' Outcry Association, a campaign group for angry depositors, said Saheli had attempted to sell his kidney to salvage cash and wire it to his son, who was studying in Ukraine.

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Security forces later entered the bank and arrested him, pending investigation.

Another armed depositor, Hassan Hadraj, stormed Byblos Bank in the southern city of Tyre, briefly took hostages and asked for his $44,000 in savings to pay his debts. 

Lebanon: Multiple banks held up by people desperate to withdraw their own money
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Hadraj released the hostages after he received around 350 million Lebanese pounds in cash (around $9,000) from his savings and gave it to a relative before he handed himself over to security forces.

In the northern city of Tripoli, a group of employees at Kadischa Electricity stormed a branch of the First National Bank, protesting against the slow access to their salaries and inflated banking fees.

In a fourth incident, George Siam staged a sit-in protest inside IBL Bank in the Beirut neighbourhood of Hazmieh, asking for his cash.

The Association of Depositors said that Siam was a former ambassador for Lebanon and the honorary consul general of Ireland in the country.

Siam's latest tweet was a video of a Lebanese woman storming a bank in September. He wrote, "we need more of that... The lady is a hero. God bless her."

The Association of Depositors said in a tweet that the solution to stop the wave of bank holdups by depositors was "to start giving them their rights without infractions, even within a certain period of time, and to meet the demands of ill depositors".

Lebanese media reported that another attempt to storm a bank on Tuesday morning was prevented when employees shut its doors.

Financial meltdown 

Since September, almost 16 cases of bank hold-ups have been recorded. There were no reported casualties on Tuesday.

Lebanese banks closed their doors for three days last month when in a single day, eight banks were held up by depositors seeking access to their frozen money.

They partially reopened last week under strict security. 

Since the onset of the economic crisis in 2019, commercial banks in Lebanon have frozen depositors out of their savings and restricted access to their accounts as part of informal capital controls.

The country has been in a financial meltdown since then, which left an estimated 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line and which the World Bank said may be one of the three worst economic crises of modern times. 

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