Lebanese judge bars five bank chiefs from leaving the country
Lebanese banks have imposed harsh capital controls on depositors since 2019, when decades of financial mismanagement precipitated the country's economic meltdown
By News Desk - March 11 2022

FILE – A bank was set ablaze by protesters at Al Nour Square in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo credit: Wael Hamzeh/EPA-EFE)

Lebanese Public Prosecutor Ghada Aoun issued a travel ban on 10 March against the heads of Lebanon’s five largest banks over suspicions related to the transfer of billions of dollars abroad during the nation’s economic meltdown.

Judge Aoun informed the General Security that the ban targets Salim Sfeir of Bank of Beirut, Samir Hanna of Bank Audi, Antoun Sehnaoui of Société Générale de Banque au Liban (SGBL), Saad Azhari of Blom Bank, and Raya Hassan of Bankmed.

This decision reportedly comes in connection to the transfer of $8 billion by Lebanon’s Central Bank to seven banks to pay depositors outside Lebanon. However, according to Arabic media, it was later shown that the total amounts actually paid by the banks did not exceed one billion.

Two months earlier, Aoun issued a similar travel ban against the Governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salameh, who is facing embezzlement and corruption charges in Lebanon, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein.

Further controversy followed the travel ban against Salameh, when he failed to appear for questioning three times. In response to this, Aoun ordered his arrest, but when State Security forces tried to track down Salameh on 15 February to arrest him, he was reportedly protected by members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), in response to this apparent obstruction of justice, Judge Aoun issued a lawsuit against Lebanon’s Police Chief for allegedly protecting Salameh.

Since the start of Lebanon’s economic meltdown in 2019, Lebanese banks have imposed harsh capital controls, preventing depositors from accessing their savings. On top of this, those who withdraw cash from their US dollar accounts use an exchange rate that is much less than that of the black market.

In September last year, Lebanon suffered a $69 billion deficit in its financial system, which is expected to reach $73 billion this year, with the malfunctioning banking system continuing to drain the reserves of its central bank, according to Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami.

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