BEIRUT — The intelligence services in Lebanon have initiated operations against money exchangers in South Lebanon and the Bekaa, L'Orient Today's correspondents in these regions reported, as the Lebanese lira experienced high volatility Sunday morning.
According to a security source contacted by L'Orient Today's correspondent in Saida, three money exchangers have been arrested by the intelligence services for "speculating on the Lebanese lira."
“Others are wanted for similar acts,” the source added.
Following raids by security forces, the main streets and squares of Saida, where scores of exchangers typically operate, emptied of money changers, our correspondent added.
The intelligence services also raided one of the largest money changers, nicknamed "the whale," in Chtaura in the Bekaa, our correspondent in the Bekaa reported. The Bekaa exchanger reportedly turned himself in to the authorities.
The arrests took place as the lira reached a record-low of LL64,000 against the dollar last week, after Lebanon on Feb. 1 officially abandoned its peg of LL1,507.5 to the dollar — which had been in place for 25 years — for a new one set at LL15,000 to the dollar.
The national currency has been very volatile, and rose rapidly on Sunday morning: after trading at more than LL64,000 to the dollar on Saturday, the lira rose to around LL58,500 to the dollar on the parallel market early Sunday; then, within just a of couple hours, it decreased again to LL62,000.
Deleted WhatsApp groups
The Lebanese Depositors Association, a group advocating for depositors' rights against the restrictive measures enforced by Lebanese banks, meanwhile on Sunday tweeted a message that has been circulating on social media networks in which exchangers claim they refuse to be blamed for the lira's latest nosedive.
"If we are taken down by the government, we will take down with us heads of banks, high ranking officials, and check dealers,” the informal exchangers are reported to have tweeted.
“It has been reported that all the WhatsApp groups of illegal money changers in Sour have been deleted this evening,” the association also tweeted on Saturday night.
The Internal Security Forces could not immediately be reached for comment by L'Orient Today.
Embroiled in an unprecedented economic crisis, Lebanon has seen its national currency lose more than 97 percent of its value against the dollar in the past three years. The exchange rate continues to oscillate, while the authorities continue to stall in adopting reforms for economic recovery.
Additional reporting by Muntasser Abdallah and Sarah Abdallah