Depositor Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein took several bank employees hostage at Federal Bank in Hamra on August 11th.
At a press conference for The Cry of Depositors Association on Thursday, he said that he will begin negotiations with the bank and resort to the judiciary to withdraw his money, and otherwise, he “will do it again.”
The remainder of his deposit is valued at $137.000. He states that he needed the money to pay for his father’s medical bills.
According to Banque du Liban Circular No. 158, Lebanese banks should release $400 monthly to depositors. Hussein said the bank had failed for months to give him the amount. On August 11th, he went to the bank again to retrieve the money, but the manager refused to pay him the amount.
“I asked for money, he said there’s no money. Every month I come in, he kicks me out,” Hussein told local news.
Hussein went to his car, brought gasoline and a gun, and went back inside the bank. He told all the depositors in the bank to leave and closed the entrance, taking several bank employees hostages, including the bank’s branch manager, Hassan Halawi.
Halawi told local news that the bank policy imposed on Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein was the same as imposed on all other customers. He refused to answer whether the Federal Bank of Lebanon’s Hamra branch was abiding by Circular No. 158, which allows monthly withdrawals up to $400.
“He made me feel like I was a beggar… but it’s my own money,” Hussein said at the press conference on Thursday.
Hussein stressed that he didn’t attack or hurt any one of the bank employees. During the detention process, he negotiated through the Ministry of Interior until he was promised $35.000 of his deposit in cash as well as $400 daily, in exchange for being allowed to leave the bank and go home directly.
However, he was detained as soon as he exited the bank and kept in custody where he went on a hunger strike. He was released the following Tuesday, when Public Prosecutor Ghassan Quiedat issued a decision to leave Hussein free without any charge or claim.
Hussein’s lawyer, Fouad Debs, co-founder of the Lebanese Depositors Union, said that the hold-up was not a robbery, but the last resort for a desperate man, as Hussein had repeatedly tried to withdraw his savings through legal means.
“We’ve seen the state of the judiciary – they are not even accepting lawsuits because they are on strike. And even when they were working, they weren’t giving judgment according to law and were biased towards the banks,” Fouad Debs told local news recently.
Lebanese associations defending depositors in Lebanon have set a two-week deadline to address the deposit crisis. If their demands are not met, they have threatened to escalate and support the people retrieving their money by force.
If the Federal Bank of Lebanon fails to release Hussein’s full savings, which amount to about $137.000, “I’ll go to the judiciary and demand my legal right. And if there’s no solution there, I’ll go back down to the bank, and do it all over again,” he said.
Related: World Bank Accuses Lebanese Politicians Of Cruelty Over Deposit Promises