BEIRUT —Forces of Change MP Cynthia Zarazir entered a Byblos bank branch in Antelias, Mount Lebanon unarmed on Wednesday morning and forcibly recovered part of her blocked savings in order to pay for a surgery, the MP told L'Orient Today by phone.
Dina Abou Zour, an attorney and spokesperson for the Depositors Union advocacy group who was present inside the bank with the MP, confirmed to L'Orient Today that the MP retrieved $8,500, which is a “small” portion of her total deposit at the bank. Zarazir had demanded the money to pay the insurance deductible for a surgery she reportedly needs.
After leaving the bank, Zarazir told local media that she had entered the bank as "a depositor, a normal Lebanese citizen to demand my right." She said that before being granted the money, she was coerced into signing a non-disclosure agreement, which adds "more injustice" to her case, she said. Abou Zour commented on the NDA saying that it legally holds no grounds.
The first-time MP said earlier that day that the bank offered to allow her to take “whatever sum she wants” at the LL8,000 per dollar exchange rate, which Zarazir refused, accepting only “fresh” USD.
The MP’s lawyer, who accompanied her inside the bank, told local news channel Al Jadeed that he and Zarazir asked all customers and employees to leave the bank to ensure their safety, though the bank reportedly kept several customers inside “to use as a tactic against [Zarazir].”
The MP also told Al Jadeed on its live broadcast that she entered the bank demanding her deposit “as a citizen, not as an MP.”
Forces of Change MP Halimé Kaakour and Yassin Yassin were present at the scene to support Zarazir. The latter had asked Kaakour not to interfere in the unarmed holdup as an MP, Abou Zour said.
Spree of bank raids
Lebanon has been seeing a series of bank holdups by aggrieved depositors attempting to access their own funds with the latest ones taking place on Tuesday. Depositors attempted to forcibly withdraw their funds from the Lebanese Bank for Commerce (BLC) in Chtaura, in the Bekaa; Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon (IBL) in Hazmieh, in the suburbs of Beirut; and Byblos Bank in Sour — only the first and last leading to successful withdrawals.
The Internal Security Forces arrested several perpetrators after the incidents, including BLC assailant and reported ISF veteran Ali Sahili. A member of the lawyers’ collective Mouttahidoun went to the police station in Chtaura to defend Sahili. The bank later announced it would not press charges against the depositor and would transfer $4,300 to Sahili’s son who is studying abroad.
The holdup was motivated, according to depositors’ groups, by the younger Sahili’s expulsion from university and eviction from his apartment due to unsettled bills. Mouttahidoun had coordinated previous bank hold-ups — notably Sali Hafez’s forcible withdrawal from Blom Bank in Beirut which, within 48 hours, sparked a series of similar incidents — and on Monday warned that “depositors’ actions” against banks would occur yesterday.
"Could the banks have opposed the financial and monetary policies decided by the state and Banque du Liban?" the Association of Banks in Lebanon said Tuesday, in a statement seeking absolution for the restrictions on depositors’ accounts after the series of bank holdups.
On Sept. 16, at least five holdups took place in various banks across the country. Two days earlier, two bank holdups had also taken place, one of which was carried out by a young woman, Sali Hafez, armed with a toy gun.
The holdups prompted banks to close for a week and demand security measures from the authorities. Most of them then reopened, implementing strict measures such as receiving customers by appointment only.