Lebanese bank will drop lawsuit against client who took hostages to access savings
Lebanese banks imposed strict capital controls in 2019, preventing depositors from accessing their own money in the middle of a crisis created by the financial elite
By News Desk - August 16 2022

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The Federal Bank of Lebanon will drop a lawsuit against one of its clients who took hostages and threatened to set himself on fire in order to access his own life savings.

According to a report by Lebanese daily Al Akhbar on 15 August, Bassam Sheikh Hussein, 42, will be released in the coming days.

The decision was reportedly made after he started a hunger strike in protest of his arrest, which contravened the agreement he made with judicial authorities during a tense standoff last week.

On 11 August, Hussein entered a branch of Federal Bank in Beirut armed with a shotgun and carrying a canister of gasoline, demanding access to his life savings to pay for his father’s medical bills.

However, just like the majority of Lebanese citizens, he was denied access to his money due to banks’ informal capital controls.

The situation quickly devolved, and Hussein took 10 hostages and threatened to set himself on fire unless he was allowed access to $209,000 he has in a savings account.

After hours of negotiations, Hussein accepted an offer from Federal Bank to receive a portion of his money, after which he released the hostages and surrendered to police.

It remains unclear how much of his savings he received, however, Hussein’s sister-in-law told media he had been given “enough to pay for his father’s hospital expenses.”

As news of the situation spread, people gathered outside the bank to show their support for Hussein, with many chanting “We are all Bassam” and “Down with the rule of the banks.”

His wife, Mariam Chehadi, who was outside the bank during the incident, told reporters that her husband “did what he had to do.”

Since 2019, Lebanon has been experiencing the worst economic collapse in modern history.

After initially locking citizens out of their bank accounts completely, Lebanese banks started to impose limits on withdrawals. If a client had a US dollar account, banks would only disburse their money in Lebanese currency, which has lost over 90 percent of its value.

The World Bank has described the man-made crisis as a “Ponzi scheme,” while the UN has accused the central bank and Lebanese officials of “human rights violations” for their role in setting the stage for this crisis.

“A significant portion of people’s savings in the form of deposits at commercial banks have been misused and misspent over the past 30 years,” the World Bank says in their report, adding that Lebanon’s financial elites perpetuated this system, causing the country to accumulate debt “beyond fiscal needs.”

In their own report, the UN said: “The economic crisis was entirely avoidable; indeed, it was manufactured by failed government policies. The country has a political establishment plagued by conflicts of interest with a banking sector and a central bank (Banque du Liban) that are largely unaccountable.”

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