*Editor's note: Marwan Kheireddine was interviewed after publication, and the article has been amended to include his comments.
While Lebanese depositors’ money is trapped in banks with most transfers abroad blocked, a Lebanese banker has purchased actress Jennifer Lawrence’s $9.9 million New York penthouse.
The Daily Mail reported that Lawrence made the sale to Marwan Kheireddine who is the chairman and CEO of Al Mawarid bank in Lebanon.
For months, a series of informal and ad hoc capital controls placed on ordinary Lebanese have meant many have not been able to send funds abroad to support families or pay overseas tuition and school fees.
While Lebanese have struggled to transfer mere hundreds of dollars out of the country as the country faces an unprecedented economic crisis, Kheireddine has made the nearly $10 million purchase as an investment, he told Al Arabiya English.
Kheireddine said the purchase is part of an investment deal through a family-owned company that invests outside Lebanon in countries including the US, UK, Canada and Panama. The deal was financed through a US bank loan, “so there’s nothing to do with the capital controls,” he added.
“The future owner will have to pay massive common charges of $5,700 a month, alongside taxes, insurance and upkeep which amount to $100,000 a year,” the Daily Mail reported.
Earlier speculation lent to the idea that Kheireddine had somehow circumvented capital controls, but he told Al Arabiya English this was not the case.
In mid-July former finance official Alain Bifani told the Financial Times that $5.5 to 6 billion had been “smuggled outside the country” by “bankers who would (not allow) every other depositor to take $100.”
It had been said for months that politicians had moved money out of the country, and in January Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh asked banks to review transfers abroad said there would be an investigation into the transfers abroad between October 17 when nationwide protests kicked off and December 31. Salameh has also called for funds transferred abroad from banks’ branches to be returned to Lebanon.
Lebanon is currently in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades. As a dollar shortage began to emerge in mid-2019, the subsequent toll on the economy has been immense, with inflation spiraling. The country is heavily reliant on imports, and dollars are needed to pay for those goods.
Earlier this week, a massive blast at the Port of Beirut shook the city to its core, causing widespread damage and leaving at least 154 dead. The country must now grapple with how to rebuild its capital as individuals have seen salaries slashed as a result of the economic crisis.
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