Lebanese banks protest as judge blocks lenders from moving money overseas


BEIRUT, March 24 (Reuters) – A Lebanese judge on Thursday ordered customs authorities to stop six banks from transferring money out of Lebanon, according to a copy of the ruling seen by Reuters, taking further action against lenders including it has already ordered the freezing of the assets.

A lawyer from the Lebanese Banking Association has urged the prosecutor to stay the execution of Judge Ghada Aoun’s decision, saying the law does not give him the power to limit the freedom to send money and that this decision would add to the deterioration of the Lebanese pound. value against the dollar.

Thursday’s decision applies to Bank Audi, Bank of Beirut, Creditbank, SGBL, Blom Bank and Bankmed.

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The banks staged a two-day strike this week to protest what they said were arbitrary court rulings.

Raya Hassan, chairwoman of the board of directors of Bankmed, said the move would lead to the isolation of Lebanese banks from banks abroad, speaking in an interview with MTV television channel.

Earlier this month, Aoun froze the assets of Bank Audi, Bank of Beirut, Blom Bank, Bankmed and SGBL and members of their boards while she investigated transactions the banks had undertaken with the central bank. Read more

She also banned the heads of their councils from travelling. Read more

In a separate action, Aoun issued a travel ban for the chairman of Creditbank and froze all bank assets.

She has not accused any of the mentioned parties of any crime.

In an open letter to the prosecution, Akram Azoury, the lawyer for the Association of Banks in Lebanon, said the measure “goes to the heart of banking work” and would destroy “what remains of confidence in the banking sector”.

Lebanon has been mired in one of the world’s worst financial meltdowns since 2019, when the economy collapsed under the weight of huge public debt caused by decades of state corruption and waste. and the unsustainable way it was funded.

Depositors have been largely locked in hard currency accounts since then, and the Lebanese currency has lost more than 90% of its value.

Aoun’s latest move was based on a legal complaint by a “people want to reform the system” activist group who said the move was aimed at preventing deposits from being transferred out of the country.

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Reporting by Laila Bassam; Written by Tom Perry; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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