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Fears Over Exclusion of Shiites from Lebanese Banking Sector

Fears Over Exclusion of Shiites from Lebanese Banking Sector

Friday, 13 September, 2019 - 06:15
People walk past a branch of Jammal Trust Bank in Beirut, Lebanon, August 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Beirut - Nazeer Rida
The US sanctioning of Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank SAL on accusations of facilitating Hezbollah’s financial activities has raised concerns that members of the Shiite community would be excluded from the banking sector.

In 2011, the Lebanese Canadian Bank was shut down after the Treasury Department accused it of involvement in a money-laundering and drug-trafficking operation with ties to Hezbollah.

Jammal Trust Bank is the second Lebanon-based bank to be sanctioned by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and added to its list of global terrorist organizations.

The three other Shiite-owned banks are still operating normally, respecting international measures and laws. They are Fenicia Bank, Middle East and Africa Bank, and Lebanese Swiss Bank.

Observers assert that a large part of depositors at these banks are members of the Lebanese Shiite diaspora.

Lebanese political sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the sanctions on Jammal Trust Bank were a sign that the Treasury was targeting a certain sect in Lebanon. “There is a sectarian discrimination,” the sources said, although the US denied such accusations.

They quoted sources from Lebanon’s Central Bank as signaling a 60 percent drop in the remittances of Shiites living abroad, affecting liquidity in hard currencies.

But banking sources, in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, ruled out that the sanctions on Jammal Trust Bank were a prelude to excluding the Shiite sect from the Lebanese banking sector.

“Washington is committed to sanctioning any individual or entity involved in helping the party (Hezbollah) and not the Shiites,” they said.

Economist Violette Balaa told Asharq Al-Awsat there are no Shiite, Christian, Sunni or Druze banks in Lebanon, but banks owned by people belonging to those sects.

Balaa said she doesn’t believe that the Shiite sect was targeted by those sanctions. “The sanctions rather target every bank that has a relationship with Hezbollah or operates in contravention of US laws,” she said.

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