Lebanese ex-ambassador holds sit-in at Beirut bank amid new wave of heists
A former Lebanese ambassador held a sit-in at his bank outside of the capital city of Beirut on Tuesday, refusing to leave until he received his money, his wife has told CNN.
Georges Siam’s bank is one of four branches across Lebanon that were held-up by depositors demanding their savings on Tuesday.
According to his wife, Siam – who was Lebanon’s former Ambassador to Qatar, Turkey, Brazil and the UAE and is currently the honorary consul of Ireland in Lebanon – is refusing to leave the bank in Hamzieh after the branch declined to give the diplomat the usual amount he withdraws every month.
“It’s our money and we don’t need to beg for it,” Golda Siam said, adding that her husband was unarmed and peaceful.
Last month, Siam declared support for compatriot Sali Hafiz, who held-up a bank with a toy gun.
“We need more of that. The lady is a hero,” he tweeted at the time.
Two other men held-up banks in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and Tyre on Tuesday, demanding their own savings be returned to them, in what has become a symbol of the dire living conditions taking grip amid Lebanon’s financial meltdown. Two of the men used guns and took hostages.
A fourth bank was also stormed in Tripoli on Tuesday by a group of disgruntled employees from an electricity company protesting overdue pay and salary cuts, according to the advocacy group Depositors Outcry Association.
Across Lebanon, bank accounts have been frozen for more than two years as banks imposed capital controls amid the country’s spiraling economic woes.
Increasingly desperate depositors in the country have responded by holding up bank branches in a series of attempts to extract their funds. After a flurry of heists last month, Lebanon’s interior minister accused some groups of organizing the illegal actions and destabilizing national security.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) closed all institutions for a week after the incidents on September 16, reopening branches only for commercial transactions 10 days later.
Banks are carrying the “burden” of a systemic crisis created by Lebanon’s government and its Central Bank, ABL said in a statement on Tuesday.
The ABL has also accused Lebanon’s government of setting people against banks, and warned the country’s currency could one day collapse to the point where money will be weighed instead of counted, adding that at that point, “hope of recovering deposits will fade.”
The Lebanese parliament has been working on a formal capital control law to stabilize the country’s finances, but passage of the bill has stalled.
Among the reforms envisioned, the government has also announced it would start to adjust its official exchange rate in the beginning of November, in hopes of increasing foreign currency reserves. The change is part of a set of conditions set out by the International Monetary Fund for a loan to help the country’s economies.
Demanding more security for bank employees, Lebanon’s Syndicate of Banking Employees has called for a sit-in protest on October 12.