Bank holdup in Beirut as 3 depositors seek to free their money

Bank holdup in Beirut as 3 depositors seek to free their money
3 min read
02 November, 2022
The bank heist was the latest in a growing phenomena of depositors trying to free their money by force.
Ibrahim Beydoun, a depositor, holds up a bank on the outskirts of Beirut. [William Christou/TNA]

Three depositors held up a bank on the outskirts of Beirut on Wednesday, demanding the money which has been frozen in their accounts since Lebanon's financial crisis in 2019.

One of the depositors, Ibrahim Beydoun, held up the bank with a gun and a bottle of petrol. At one point, he pointed the gun at the improvised molotov cocktail and threatened to shoot if his demands weren't satisfied.

The three depositors, Ali al-Sahili, Katherine al-Ali and Beydoun, refused to leave the Credit Libanais branch in the Hazmieh until they were given their money. They communicated with the local police chief and the owner of the bank via cell phones in order to negotiate their exit.

"My father is willing to die. You have to understand the situation, those are his life savings," Khalil Beydoun, the son of one of the depositors, told reporters outside the bank.

"It's legal what he's doing, it's his right to take. He wants all of his deposits," Beydoun said, explaining that his father was a retiree and had worked for years in Saudi Arabia before losing his deposits in the financial crisis.

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The bank heist was the latest in a growing trend of depositors reclaiming their savings by force. Lebanese banks froze most accounts and imposed strict withdrawal limits in the fall of 2019, in effect confiscating the savings of millions of Lebanese.

Having exhausted all legal avenues to reclaim their money, certain depositors have begun to take coordinated action to force banks to give them their money – prompting banks to hire private security and shut intermittently.

Lebanon's Banking Association (ABL) have threatened legal action against depositors who try to take money by force. It has also imposed what critics call "collective punishment" against depositors by closing for weeks at a time in retaliation for the holdups.

Previously, courts have declined to take legal action against those holding up banks, for fear of a popular backlash. With the proliferation of holdups, however, this is likely to change.

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The government has failed to take the steps necessary to recover depositors’ accounts. Despite multiple drafts circulating, it has yet to pass a financial reform plan in the three years since the beginning of the financial crisis.

In the meantime, the country's foreign reserves continue to dwindle and the value of its own currency depreciates.

Outside the doors of the bank in Hazmieh, Lebanese arrived to show solidarity with the three depositors carrying out the heist.

"We want our money! We've been forced to resort to begging!" Vera Kanaan, a member of the Depositor's Outcry advocacy group, screamed at security forces lining the bank's entrance.

"We won't leave even one of your branches open. And if you don't give us our money, we'll open the banks ourselves. We gave our money to the banks to keep it safe," Simone Barak, a protester outside the bank, told reporters outside the bank.

Depositors who came to show solidarity told The New Arab that they could envision themselves taking similar steps to those who held up the bank if their money is not returned to them.

They expressed frustration with the lack of action being taken by the government to return their deposits.

As of the time of publishing, the hostage situation inside the Credit Libanais bank branch in Hazmieh was still ongoing.