In Lebanon, armed customers rob banks to get their money

A woman with a gun and some associates held her hostage at a BLOM Bank branch in the capital Beirut before withdrawing more than $13,000 in cash from her account, a source at a deposit promotion group said.

A short time later, in the city of Mount Aley, an armed man entered a Bankmed branch and recovered some of the seized savings before handing them over to the authorities, a Depository Appeals and security source said.

Lebanese banks have locked most deposits out of savings since the economic crisis began three years ago, leaving a large part of the population unable to pay for basic necessities.

In a phenomenon that shows the dire situation, Wednesday’s arrests came after a man took over another bank in Beirut last month to withdraw funds to treat his ailing father.

BLOM Bank said a customer and accomplices arrived with a gun, threatened to set people on fire and forced the branch manager and cashier to bring money from a safe deposit box.

‘Nothing left to lose’

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

“I have nothing more to lose, I have reached the end of the road,” he said, adding that his visit to the bank manager two days earlier had not yielded a suitable solution.

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

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

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

Authorities had no immediate comment on the incident.

Bankmed did not comment on the retention of its branch.

After last month’s arrest, which also involved hostages, the accused was arrested but later released without charge after the bank dropped the case.

A senior Lebanese banker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was a worrying precedent,

“I think it’s an invitation to other people to do the same. As long as people run away, they will continue. What a failed state,” the banker said.

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