The noose is tightening around the necks of commercial banks in Lebanon. More than two years after de facto capital controls on bank deposits became the norm, preventing most account holders from accessing their savings, judges have issued a series of decisions against the interests of bankers.
On Tuesday, the assets of Fransabank, one of the country's largest financial institutions, were frozen under a ruling issued by Beirut's first enforcement judge, Mariana Anani, in a case in which one of the bank’s depositors is demanding the return of his funds in the currency in which they were denominated, and not by bank check.
At the origin of the complaint is the United for Lebanon collective, a coalition of lawyers formed in 2016 whose stated goal is to “fight corruption.” Among the collective’s founders is Rami Ollaik, who is reputedly close to the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, founded by President Michel Aoun.
According to the group’s spokesperson, the United for Lebanon collective is also behind several complaints against other financial actors.
“We have filed complaints against several bank branches in Zahle and Bekaa, against Riad Salameh [the governor of the central bank], Raja Salameh [Riad Salameh's brother] and Marianne Hoayek [adviser to the central bank chief], but also against the Société Générale de Banque au Liban (SGBL) and the Mecattaf money transfer group,” the group’s spokeswoman said.
Many of these individuals are also the subject of prosecution by Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun, who is reputed to be close to President Aoun.
Does United for Lebanon then act in the presidential interest? “Yes, this group is close to the FPM and uses the issue of banks for political purposes,” said an independent lawyer, who campaigns for the return of deposits and unrequested anonymity. This statement was echoed by a source close to the Aounist movements, also under the seal of anonymity.
For her part, the collective’s spokeswoman sweeps aside suggestions that her group has any political affiliation. “Some of our lawyers could be members or close to a party. This does not mean that the group is affiliated with anyone. We are completely independent, both financially and politically, and we point the finger at corruption wherever it is found,” she said.
The FPM likewise categorically denies sponsoring the collective. “Mr. Ollaik and United for Lebanon were part of the Oct. 17 [2019 protest movement], so they cannot be affiliated with the FPM,” said a source within the party who requested anonymity. The source added, “But it must be said that there is a conjunction between our objective and that of United for Lebanon, namely to dot the i’s in the financial chaos in which we live.”
However, with less than two months to go before May 15 parliamentary elections elections, will the FPM, which is perceived to be losing ground, try to position itself as the depositors’ advocate? United for Lebanon denies any link between the prospect of May polls and their complaints. “There is absolutely no link to the elections. It’s just that the complaints are constrained by judicial deadlines that have delayed them until now,” the spokeswoman said.
At a press conference on Friday, however, Ollaik wondered aloud, “Is this the time to hold elections with all these criminals?”
This article was originally published in French in L’Orient-Le Jour.
The noose is tightening around the necks of commercial banks in Lebanon. More than two years after de facto capital controls on bank deposits became the norm, preventing most account holders from accessing their savings, judges have issued a series of decisions against the interests of bankers.On Tuesday, the assets of Fransabank, one of the country's largest financial institutions, were frozen...