Three Lebanese banks stormed as depositors seek their own savings

Three Lebanese banks stormed as depositors seek their own savings
The bank break-ins were part of a coordinated campaign against banks and for depositors' rights.
3 min read
04 October, 2022
At least one of the depositors who held up a bank was taken into custody by authorities on Tuesday. [Getty]

Depositors stormed three separate banks across Lebanon on Tuesday to gain access to their own savings, frozen in the country's financial system since 2019.

The bank heists were the latest in a string of incidents of depositors taking their own money by force over the past month as Lebanon descends deeper into an economic crisis. Lebanon's banks froze deposits in the fall of 2019 – effectively confiscating the savings of millions.

The heists have increased as legal avenues have failed to recover depositors' money and the country's parliament continues to delay passing a financial recovery plan. As the government delays, the economy worsens, with the national currency losing over 95 per cent of its value and the price of local goods skyrocketing.

One of the depositors, Ali al-Sahli, reportedly a retired police officer, filmed himself as he held up a bank in the Bekaa valley.

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"I will shoot! You are the one in charge, you are the one who took my money," al-Sahli said as he pointed a gun at bank employees in a BLC bank branch in the town of Chtoura. Al-Sahli was reportedly arrested and failed to recover any of his money.

Two more banks were stormed, one in the southern city of Tyre and one in the northern city of Tripoli. The break-ins were a part of a coordinated campaign organised by a depositors’ rights association which calls itself "depositor's outcry."

The day prior, on Monday, a man stormed a bank in the southern suburbs of Beirut and walked away with $US 11,000 of his money. After settling with the bank on Tuesday, it was agreed the man would not be charged.

The group has promised more coordinated action unless the government steps in to pass reforms which would protect depositors. Thus far, financial reform plans proposed by the government have put the lion's share of financial losses on small and medium-size depositors, rather than on banks themselves.

The amount that the government promised to ensure for depositors has also dwindled as time passes, down to just $US 50,000 of deposits from an initial offer to guarantee up to $US 150,000 per depositor.

Without a financial recovery plan deemed equitable, the IMF will not release much-needed funds and most depositors will remain locked out of their accounts.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) previously closed banks in protest of the first wave of bank heists, saying they needed to do so to protect their employees.

Banks partially re-opened after the week-long closure, but the ABL has stressed that it needs stronger security measures to prevent future heists.

"The banks do not bear the responsibility for the waste, but rather the authorities of the state that spent your money and delayed approving a recovery plan and the necessary legislation to secure justice for all depositors," ABL said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

The Lebanese government similarly urged depositors not to mimic past break-ins, with the Interior Minister saying "this was not the correct way" to recover money.

Civil society activists, however, have said that break-ins will continue without a proper legal avenue for depositors to recover their own money.