Already Angry Bank Customers Here Are About to Get Angrier

Lebanon shutters banks 'indefinitely' after heist spree by patrons trying to access trapped cash
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2022 8:38 AM CDT
Amid Heist Surge, Lebanon's Banks Shutter 'Indefinitely'
A BLOM Bank branch is shuttered in Beirut on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

(Newser) – If you're in Lebanon and need to do regular banking, better download the app—and expect all the usual limitations on how much money you can take out. That's because after being closed for three days already, most banks there are now shuttered "indefinitely" after a rush of customers conducted armed robberies in recent days to access their trapped money. Per the Financial Times, the nation's banking association, which represents the majority of banks there, cited "continued risks to bank employees and customers," an "ongoing atmosphere of incitement," and inadequate security to deal with it for its decision, which comes after a heist surge that included five just last Friday.

In one especially high-profile incident earlier this month, a woman robbed a Beirut bank with a toy gun, demanding her life savings to pay for her sister's cancer treatment. Others who've tried the same, using handguns, pellet guns, and fake firearms, have managed to retrieve some of their cash, though they've had to go into hiding or been arrested afterward. Lebanon has been mired in a financial crisis since 2019, with the BBC reporting that about 80% of its population has trouble paying for food and medicine. For more than two years, deposits at banks have been frozen, and there have been strict limits on how much can be withdrawn. "Many people are not finding any jobs, and they really blame the banks for imposing these controls on the citizens," says reporter Zeina Khodr of Al Jazeera.

Adding to the anger is a report released last month by the World Bank that alleged Lebanon has been running a Ponzi scheme of sorts, and that many customers' funds had been "misused and misspent over the past 30 years," per the Financial Times. Sali Hafiz, the woman on the run after force-withdrawing $13,000 of her own money for her sister's treatment, is now hailed as a hero by many, as are others conducting the raids. Hafiz is now in hiding, but she has no regrets for what she's done. "We are in the country of mafias. If you are not a wolf, the wolves will eat you," she tells Reuters. "They are all in cahoots to steal from us and leave us to go hungry and die slowly." (Read more Lebanon stories.)

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