Banks across Lebanon closed their branches Monday in response to a spate of holdups last week by depositors attempting to seize their own funds.
The closures are expected to last through Wednesday, but could remain closed for longer if the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) determines authorities’ efforts to guarantee the security of bank branches and employees to be insufficient. The decision to close the banks emerged from a Monday meeting of the ABL’s board of directors.
"Given the seriousness of the events of last week and the fact that the authorities have not yet clearly explained how they will strengthen security around bank branches, the ABL should not decide on next steps before Wednesday afternoon," said an anonymous source close to the association.
The Federation of Bank Employees' Unions in Lebanon also plans to meet Wednesday to decide on next steps, according to union president George al-Hajj.
Last week, Hajj told L'Orient-Le Jour that a majority of bank employees may refuse to return to work on Thursday "if they are not sure of their safety.”
The president said he has not yet received clear information from the authorities regarding heightened security. Caretaker Minister of the Interior and Municipalities, Bassam Maoulaoui, has offered no details on the "strict plan" he announced Friday.
Some banks have gone so far as to close most of their departments while others have maintained partial services, but all continue to supply their ATM networks. This is according to several banks contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, including Bank Audi, BLOM Bank and IBL Bank, and confirmed by other sources in the banking sector, as well as the Federation of Unions of Bank Employees.
"There are banks where no employees showed up and others where part of the staff was mobilized to finalize procedures begun the previous week,” said Hajj. “All procedures that require going to the branch — withdrawing documents, money or cards from the counter — have been suspended."
One of L’Orient-Le Jour’s banking sources said the banks’ closure would have no impact on the "processing of salaries," which are usually processed on the 15th and 27th of each month.
Another source said it is still possible to carry out most operations through online banking applications. A third explained that transfers to Lebanon from abroad will not be interrupted, but that their processing could be delayed.
It is also possible to withdraw dollars from several banks’ ATMS at the Sayrafa rate — LL 29,800 to the dollar, as of Tuesday morning. At the same time, the lira was trading at LL 39,000 on the parallel market.
Banks across Lebanon closed their branches Monday in response to a spate of holdups last week by depositors attempting to seize their own funds. The closures are expected to last through Wednesday, but could remain closed for longer if the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) determines authorities’ efforts to guarantee the security of bank branches and employees to be insufficient. The...