Judge fines Lebanese bank robber, issues travel ban

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A Lebanese judge on Thursday imposed a fine and a six-month travel ban on a woman who stormed her bank with a fake gun and took her booby-trapped savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.

Cash-strapped Lebanese banks have imposed strict limits on foreign currency withdrawals since 2019, tying up the savings of millions. About three-quarters of the population have fallen into poverty as the economy of the small Mediterranean country continues to soar. The Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value against the dollar.

Last month, Sali Hafez broke into a branch of BLOM Bank in Beirut with activists from the protest group Depositors’ Outcry and stormed into the manager’s office. They forced bank employees to hand over $12,000 and the equivalent of about $1,000 in Lebanese pounds.

Hafez was widely celebrated as a hero and went into hiding for weeks.

His attorney, Ali Abbas, told The Associated Press that Hafez surrendered on Wednesday night and the bank filed a complaint. Another sister involved in the robbery was with Sali.

“The judge decided to let them go on bail of one million pounds each and a six-month travel ban,” Abbas said in a phone interview from the courthouse.

One million Lebanese pounds was once worth more than $666, but has since been devalued to $25.

Following last month’s incident, an outcry from depositors pledged support for more bank raids, and a dozen similar incidents have since occurred.

On Wednesday, Lebanese lawmaker Cynthia Zarazir staged a sit-in at her bank branch with a lawyer, demanding the withdrawal of $8,500 to cover the costs of an operation.

These developments have rattled Lebanese banks, which say they have been unfairly targeted by the small Mediterranean country’s fiscal crisis. The Association of Banks in Lebanon temporarily closed for a week, before partially reopening last week, citing security concerns.

Lebanon has been struggling for more than two years to implement a series of reforms in order to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package and make its struggling economy viable again.

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