BEIRUT —Two depositors failed to retrieve their savings after holding up a branch of Byblos Bank in Sin al-Fil, east of Beirut, on Thursday morning, a spokesperson of the Cry of the Depositors collective told L'Orient Today.
The depositors were supported by the Cry of the Depositors, said collective spokesperson Moussa Agathy. He identified the depositors as Wassim Hatoum, whose deposit amounts to $5,400, and Ashraf Salha, whose deposit amounts to $25,000.
These actions come as the banking sector continues to impose informal capital controls on deposits. Such restrictions were first implemented at the onset of Lebanon's economic crisis in 2019 and customer withdrawals and transfers.
In a video posted on the collective's social networks, one of the depositors, can be seen shouting, "Give us our money, come on, there's nothing to lose anymore." Both depositors are seen gesturing, each with a bottle of liquid in hand. Agathy told L'Orient Today that the bottles contain the flammable liquids benzene and acid. "There is benzene on the floor," one of the depositors warned.
According to the state-run National News Agency, scuffles broke out in the bank between other depositors present at the scene and security forces, causing material damage.
'Escape through the back door'
Following negotiations with the branch's manager, Agathy said Salha was offered $5,000 while Hatoum was offered either $2,000 or $3,000, to which both depositors agreed.
While pretending to go inside to count the money, Agathy said the branch manager and employees "managed to pour the deposits in big black bags and escape through the back door," without handing the depositors any of their savings, as agreed.
Security forces then took statements from both depositors, according to Agathy.
Lawyer Rami Olleik — the founder of lawyers' collective Mouttahidoun (United), which also supported Thursday's bank hold-up — confirmed this sequence of events to L'Orient-Le Jour.
L'Orient-Le Jour reached out to Byblos Bank, which replied with an official statement: "Byblos Bank acted appropriately to ensure the safety and security of its employees and the clients who were present at the Sin al Fil branch while it was being attacked with dangerous flammables today.”
'Further bank hold ups'
Olleik told L'Orient Today that the bank holdup was planned along with three other bank holdups in Antelias, including Société Générale de Banque au Liban, Credit Libanais and Fransabank.
"They were supposed to take place simultaneously but the three banks in Antelias have collectively tightened their security measures so we were not able to enter them," said Olleik.
Olleik warned that there will be further bank holdups on Friday, explaining that he has "a waiting list of depositors who want to retrieve their savings."
"Some depositors tell us they will enter their bank with or without our support."
"People should expect more [bank holdups] in the future because depositors need a solution," Agathy also lamented. "Why is everyone being paid at different exchange rates now but the depositor is still receiving his deposit at LL15,000."
This incident comes just two days after two depositors, one of whom was armed with a grenade, recovered some of their savings from a branch of Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries (BBAC) in Bint Jbeil, South Lebanon, and a branch of Crédit Libanais in Shehim, in the Chouf.
Following these bank holdups, the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) on Tuesday threatened to re-adopt precautionary measures, including a weekslong strike.
Last September, commercial banks reopened with heightened security measures after several weeks of closure in response to a wave of holdups. ABL has called for several strikes since then, asking for a capital control law regulating withdrawals and decrying judicial rulings ordering payouts to depositors.
On Monday, a depositor, accompanied by his 13-year-old son, also held up a branch of Bank Al-Mawarid in Antelias, on the Metn coast, and managed to recover his savings of $15,000.
Last Monday, a depositor in his 60s managed to obtain his entire savings of $6,500 after staging a short sit-in at the downtown Beirut branch of Banque Misr Liban and threatening employees with a bottle containing an unidentified liquid.