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Syrian bank loses $10 million in cash theft

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$10 million in a mixture of currencies has been stolen from the Syrian affiliate of Jordan’s Housing Bank for Trade and Finance, the bank said on Thursday, laying the blame for the theft on an executive in Damascus working with outsiders.

In a statement sent to the Amman bourse, Housing Bank released a copy of a disclosure made by Syria’s International Bank for Trade and Finance, which said the incident took place on January 17.

The Syrian bank, one of the country’s major private commercial banks, said the money taken included $3.4 million and 4.75 million euros with the rest in the local currency.

Banking sources said this is by far the biggest internal theft since the start of the uprising and has sent jitters through other private banks worried about the security of whatever cash still remains in their main vaults.

Hitherto most cash thefts have been from ATM machines and the looting of small branches where banks had minimal cash.

IBTF, in which Housing Bank has a 49 percent stake, said the fraud would not affect its liquidity or it’s financial position and that insurance covered the amounts stolen.

Like Syria’s economy as a whole, its banking industry has been severely damaged by the fighting. There is little corporate lending or trade finance business, but deposits and withdrawals continue.

The sector, which is dominated by four state-owned banks but includes 14 privately owned institutions, mostly subsidiaries of banks in Lebanon and other Arab countries, has largely been cut off from the global financial system by the international sanctions imposed on Assad’s government.