BEIRUT — An unarmed depositor, whose wife is a cancer patient, held up Crédit Libanais' Chehim (Chouf) branch on Wednesday, to claim his own funds and settle his wife's health care expenses, Moussa Agathy, a spokesperson for the Cry of the Depositors group, told L'Orient Today.
The spokesperson added that the depositor, Walid Hajjar, stormed the bank premises, accompanied by his wife's siblings — two sisters and two brothers — then doused the bank premises with gasoline and threatened to light it on fire, demanding a portion of his savings — $50,000 out of a total $242,000 — in order to cover his wife's medical expenses.
Agathy also said that he is in contact with the depositor who informed him that he had also doused the bank manager with gasoline, after which the latter started cooperating with the depositor.
A video, supplied by Cry of the Depositors and seen by L'Orient Today, showed a crowd of activists outside the bank's entrance, shouting "Give him his money, give him his $50,000." Security forces could also be seen at the premises.
'Dying before his eyes'
The depositor's son told local media that his father "has sold the lands he owned, his car, and his wife's jewelry in order to pay for the hospital bills," leaving him with no funds to continue treatment for his wife, who has lung cancer. "We hope we won't need to resort to force to retrieve the money," the son added, stressing that his father is "merely practicing his right."
"His wife, my mother, is dying before his eyes and he can't do anything," the son said.
The wife's sister, with tears trickling down her face, was also present in front of the bank and told local media that the wife's mother has also accompanied Hajjar and is holding up the bank inside, where "they are negotiating with the bank manager and employees."
At Around 7:30 p.m., the Cry of the Depositors association announced that "complicated" negotiations were still ongoing between Hajjar and the bank, which offered him $40,000 in cash, of the $50,000 he requested.
The group, which accuses the bank’s administration of “trying to gain time,” put “all the responsibility” for possible escalation on Credit Libanais CEO Joseph Torbey, after announcing that Chehim’s residents are planning road blockage.
Crédit Libanais was not immediately available to give a comment.
Moutahidoun ("United," in English) depositors' rights organization also confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that "the depositor W.H., after coordinating with the Cry of the Depositors, stormed the bank in Chehim, detained those inside, poured gasoline and threatened to burn the bank." The statement added that the depositor resorted to holding up the bank after failing to reach a solution "through the judiciary" that would enable him to access his funds.
A slew of bank holdups
On Tuesday, an 87-year-old depositor managed to retrieve approximately $5,500 in cash after holding a long sit-in at a Bank Audi branch in the Selim Salam neighborhood in Beirut to claim her own funds, her son-in-law, Ashraf el-Abbadi, reported to L'Orient-Le Jour.
The Moutahidoun group, led by activist Rami Ollaik, consistently threatens banks with violence if they do not allow clients to withdraw their own funds. Earlier in November, four people — including Ollaik and two depositors, one of whom was armed — infiltrated Crédit Libanais' Hazmieh branch to demand the return of the two depositors' funds. Despite successfully withdrawing $56,000, the four individuals spent all night at the bank engaged in negotiations with security forces and were eventually arrested at dawn the following day. They were released one by one in the following weeks.
Banks have imposed de facto capital control laws on most depositors' funds since October 2019, leading to the recent phenomenon of bank holdups and forced withdrawals by frustrated clients. On Nov. 23, there were three attempts by depositors to retrieve their frozen savings. Only one of the three depositors was able to recover any funds— $ 15,000.