Lebanon: Police Join In Bank Attacks as Currency Hits Yet Another New Low; Central Bank Chief Accused of Embezzlement

Police officers have joined frustrated depositors in storming a bank in the town of Tyre as the Lebanese pound hit a new bottom on Tuesday.

The officers attacked the Societe Generale de Banque au Liban branch in the southern town to demand the payment of their salaries as the country falls further into economic turmoil. The pound fell to a new all-time low of 87,000 to the dollar on Tuesday. Earlier in February, banks were forced to close as the pound fell to 80,000, sparking fiery attacks from angered depositors.

READ: Frustrated Depositors Set Beirut Banks On Fire As Lebanese Pound Hits New Low

The country’s banks reopened last week after going on an open-ended strike beginning on February 7 to demand stricter capital control laws. The strike was reportedly suspended at the request of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, just as people, including government workers, were expecting to receive their monthly pay.

The Lebanese currency has lost over 98% of its value since the country began its rapid economic collapse in 2019. This has caused the country’s banks to conduct unofficial capital controls, limiting the Lebanese pound and the US Dollars that people can withdraw. These cash withdrawal limits — although never formalized by law — have pushed depositors to fight for access to their money either through lawsuits or by force. Bank robberies and sit-ins have almost become common practice in the last year.

Central Bank Thief

Much of the anger on Tuesday was focused on Riad Salameh, governor of Banque du Liban, the country’s central bank. He will soon be prosecuted in Lebanon, according to the Lebanese news outlet L’Orient Today, which cited a high-ranking judicial official. 

After months of delay, authorities charged Salameh, his brother Raja, and one of his assistants for money laundering, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment on February 23.

The brothers allegedly transferred $330 million to Swiss accounts through Forry Associates Ltd, an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands, while about $250 million was deposited to Raja’s personal HSBC account in Geneva.

The Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung reports that substantial amounts were used to shop for properties in a number of countries in the European Union, while other sums were put in Swiss banks UBS, Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, EFG, and Pictet.

Salameh, who denies all charges, is also currently being investigated by authorities in France and Switzerland.

Information for this briefing was found via Al-Monitor, L’Orient Today, France 24, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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