Woman holds up Beirut bank to liberate own savings to pay for sister's cancer treatment

Woman holds up Beirut bank to liberate own savings to pay for sister's cancer treatment
The woman apologised for scaring other customers and said she would not have hurt anyone.
2 min read
14 September, 2022
Millions of Lebanese lost their savings after banks froze them out of their own accounts in 2019.

A woman, Sali Hafez, briefly took over a bank in Beirut on Wednesday morning, reportedly coming away with US$13,000 of her own savings account.

Hafez stormed the bank branch with a dozen activists, brandishing a handgun and gasoline, threatening to burn the place down if she was not given her money.

In a video, Hafez can be seen guiding a man through the bank, demanding her money while customers rushed out of the building.

"Nothing will happen unless we do this. Pay the money and we leave. Don't pay the money and we will set ourselves and the bank on fire," Hafez said in a video.

Lebanese banks all but froze the bank accounts of their depositors following its financial crisis in 2019, in effect causing millions of Lebanese to lose their savings. Banks created strict withdrawal limits on depositors, despite there being no legal basis for these informal capital controls.

Since Lebanon's financial crisis, the national currency has lost 90 per cent of its value and over two-thirds of the population have been thrust into poverty.

Hafez reportedly needed to access her savings to pay for the medical treatment of her cancer-stricken sister. She was not arrested after the bank hold-up, but a few activists at the scene were taken into custody.

Just an hour after the bank takeover, Hafez posted on her Facebook page that she was already at the airport. "The whole state is at my house while I'm at the airport. See you all in Istanbul!" She wrote.

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The hold-up comes just a month after another bank hostage situation, where a man took hostages in a Beirut bank for hours in order to free up his own deposits. The man also needed to pay for cancer treatment for a relative – his father – and was able to free over US$35,000 of his own savings.

The man faced no charges for the holdup, nor did the other two individuals who held up banks in the past year.

Lebanese depositors have launched court cases to recover their money from the banks, but in most cases, banks have refused to pay them their money.

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