The Lebanese Central Bank governor, Riyad Salemeh, said the country’s banking sector respects the rights of all Syrian depositors and guarantees their interests. “Lebanese banks enjoy complete discretion and we did not issue any resolution to freeze the assets or the accounts of any Syrian personality,” he said, in response to allegations that the country is under U.S. pressure to act against Syrians who have bank accounts in Lebanon.
“We are keen to preserve this historical relationship between traders and merchants and industrialists, and of course Syrians, if they want to deal with our banks, so long as the sources of funds are clear, they are welcome to do so. We have not issued any orders regarding this,” said Salemeh.
The governor also denied reports about being pressurized by a visiting American delegation on the same issue. “Lebanon is a small country and it is true that the sector suffered a setback because of the Lebanese Canadian bank case. Yes, we are put under pressure but at the end, in Lebanon as in Switzerland, banks do what serves their interests.”
“We did have an issue with the Lebanese-Canadian bank but this file was closed and it is over and there is no targeting of the financial sector and there have been statement from Americans about this. No bank in Lebanon is being targeted and the climate is back to normal. This year banking sector has made gains, not losses. Deposits increased 7 percent, same for profits while loans increased by 15 percent,” he added.
When asked to comment on the impact the pressure places on banks, especially the six Lebanese banks which have branches in Syria and where some shareholders ─ including Rami Makhlouf, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law ─ are on the most wanted list, Salemeh said, “Owning shares in the bank does not allow the holder to be a member of the governing council and therefore he cannot take any policy decision.”
“Lebanese banks, inside or outside Lebanon, continue to serve their clients without any discrimination and in accordance to international regulations in order to protect their payment system,” the governor said.
Salemeh does not rule out an increase in sanctions against Syria in the next few days but is confident that it will impact the banking sector in Lebanon.
Analysts believe the Lebanese banking sector will be forced into adopting a clearer stance on Syrian depositors and put into place effective measures to ensure financial and political securities.
Translated by: Stanela Khalil