Series of Lebanese bank robberies continues amid capital controls | Lebanon

Three other Lebanese banks have been blocked by depositors seeking access to their own money frozen in the banking system, adding to a series of blockages this week spurred by frustration at a spiraling financial implosion with no end in sight.

A man with a gun that turned out to be a toy has been arrested after he robbed a Lebanese bank in the southern city of Ghazieh, a security source said.

Also on Friday morning, an armed man entered a branch of BLOM bank in the Tariq al-Jdideh district of the Lebanese capital to demand his deposit, the bank told Reuters in a statement, adding that the situation was under control.

The man, identified as Abed Soubra, was cheered on by a large crowd of people gathered outside – a scene that has played out in several such incidents.

“He’s a trader and he’s right and he could go to jail because people need money from him. What should he do? Go to jail because people need money from him so that he has money in the bank?” local resident Rabih Kojok said from outside the bank.

In a third incident, a man armed with a pellet gun entered a branch of the LGB Bank in Beirut’s Ramlet al-Bayda district, seeking to withdraw around $50,000 (£44,000) from savings, said a bank worker, adding that the situation was continuing and that employees and customers were stuck inside.

It was at least the fifth such incident this week.

The country’s banks have blocked most depositors from their savings since an economic crisis set in three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay basic expenses.

Capital controls were never formalized in law, but courts have been slow to rule on depositors’ attempts to secure savings through litigation against banks, leading some to seek other ways to get their money.

Friday’s incidents followed two others in the capital, Beirut, and the town of Aley on Wednesday, in which depositors were able to forcibly access part of their funds, using toy guns believed to be real weapons.

The Lebanese Banking Association on Thursday urged authorities to hold accountable those who engage in “verbal and physical attacks” on banks and said lenders themselves would not be lenient.

Last month, a man was arrested after he robbed a Beirut bank to withdraw funds to treat his ailing father, but was released without charge after the bank dropped charges against him.

James V. Hayes