The Daily Telegraph

Banks shut in Lebanon after five heists in a day to access savings

- By Lila Randall

A LEBANESE activist group has promised to help cash-strapped citizens carry out bank heists to access their own savings, as people take increasing­ly desperate measures to get around the crisis-hit frozen banking system.

The country’s banks said yesterday that they would be closing for three days after at least five armed robberies were carried out in one day.

No one appears to have been hurt so far, although there were reports of gun- shots fired during one incident.

Most heists are being cheered on by crowds gathered at the banks who are lauding these citizens-turned-robbers as heroes.

Among them is Abed Soubra, who entered a branch of BLOM bank in the capital Beirut’s Tariq el-jdideh neighbourh­ood yesterday morning holding a gun and demanding his $300,000 (£260,000) in savings.

He was still locked in the branch hours later, telling a news agency by phone that he had handed over his gun to security forces and just wanted his money. “I’ll stay here three, four, five days – I won’t move until I get my deposit,” he said.

Mr Soubra said he refused an offer by the bank to get part of his savings in the local Lebanese currency, which has become close to worthless owing to rampant inflation.

He was cheered on by a large crowd of people gathered outside, including Bassam al-sheikh Hussein, who carried out a hold-up last month to get his savings from his bank.

“We’re going to keep seeing this happen as long as people have money inside. What do you want them to do?

“They don’t have another solution,” said Mr Hussein. He got about $30,000 from his savings of $200,000.

Depositors’ Outcry, an advocacy group, said people were at breaking point amid an economic crisis that has pushed hundreds of thousands into poverty and left many struggling to pay their bills.

“We’re organising more than this, and you have no choice,” said Alaa Khorchid, the head of the group. “People’s rights are sacred.”

Other incidents yesterday included a man in his 50s accompanie­d by his son holding up a Byblos Bank in the southern city of Ghazieh and a man armed with a pellet gun storming a branch of LGB Bank in Ramlet al-baida in Beirut.

So far “robbers” have been arrested and released without charge. The interior minister called for an emergency meeting yesterday.

Lebanon has been hit by one of the world’s worst economic crises since a financial crash in 2019.

Its currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value on the black market, while poverty and unemployme­nt have soared.

Banks were investigat­ed for sending large sums of money out of the country for senior officials and politician­s at a time when ordinary citizens were blocked from making foreign transfers.

The wave of heists intensifie­d after Depositors’ Outcry accompanie­d Sali Hafez at a bank on Wednesday, where they staged a hold-up with her nephew’s plastic gun to access savings to pay for her sister’s cancer treatment.

They doused a BLOM bank in Beirut in gasoline and threatened to set it alight as they demanded $12,000 plus the equivalent of about $1,000 in Lebanese pounds.

Ms Hafez said she had $20,000 in savings trapped in the bank, and had considered selling her kidney.


How much the Lebanese pound has fallen in value on the black market, while poverty and unemployme­nt have soared

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