Depositors raid two Lebanese banks to seize their own money

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  • Lebanese excluded from their deposits during the crisis
  • Woman breaks into bank to take money from her sick sister
  • Another armed man arrested after robbing another bank
  • Phenomenon illustrates the problems of Lebanon’s ‘failed state’

BEIRUT, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Two apparently armed and desperate Lebanese depositors robbed banks on Wednesday to force access to their own money, which has been blocked during a national financial meltdown.

A woman with a gun and some associates briefly held hostage at a BLOM Bank branch (BLOM.BY) in the capital, Beirut, before walking away with more than $13,000 in cash from his account, a source at a depositors’ advocacy group said.

Shortly after, in the mountain town of Aley, a gunman entered a Bankmed branch and retrieved some of his trapped savings, before turning himself in to authorities, Depositors Outcry and a security source said.

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Lebanon’s banks have blocked most depositors from their savings since an economic crisis hit three years ago, leaving much of the population unable to pay for basics.

In a phenomenon that illustrates the plight, Wednesday’s heists came after a man robbed another Beirut bank last month to withdraw funds to treat his ailing father. read more

BLOM Bank said a customer and his accomplices arrived with a gun, threatened to set people on fire and forced the branch manager and treasurer to take money out of a safe.

‘NOTHING ELSE TO LOSE’

Before going into hiding, the woman, Sali Hafiz, told local news channel Al Jadeed TV that the gun was a toy and that she needed the money for her sister’s cancer treatment.

“I have nothing more to lose, I have reached the end of the road,” he said, saying that a visit to the bank manager two days earlier had not provided an adequate solution.

“It got to a point where I was going to sell my kidney so my sister could get treatment.”

BLOM confirmed that the client had gone to get his money for his sister’s treatment, saying he was offered full cooperation and asked to provide documentation.

“All we have is this money in the bank. My daughter was forced to take this money, it is her right, it is in her account, to treat her sister,” her mother, Hiam Hafiz, told local television.

Authorities did not immediately comment on the incidents.

Bankmed did not comment on the robbery of its branch.

Following last month’s heist, which also involved hostages, the accused perpetrator was arrested but later released without charge after the bank dropped the lawsuit.

A senior Lebanese banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters it was a worrying precedent.

“I think this is an invitation for other people to do the same. As long as people get away with it, it will continue. What a failed state,” said the banker.

Banks say they make exceptions for humanitarian cases, including hospital care, but depositors say that rarely happens.

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Information from Timur Azhari, Laila Bassam and Issam Abdallah; Written by Maya Gebeily Edited by Frank Jack Daniel, Alexandra Hudson, and Andrew Cawthorne.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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