Lebanon’s Byblos Bank says its monitoring, auditing US dollar withdrawals

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Byblos Bank, one of Lebanon’s largest lenders, clarified in a statement that it has taken steps to “monitor and audit” US dollar withdrawals from its ATMs in order to prevent misuse and currency speculation, and that its customers have full access to their accounts otherwise.

The bank refuted media reports that some of its customers have lost full access to their dollar-denominated accounts as the country grapples with its ongoing dollar liquidity shortage amid a worsening economic crisis.

Nassib Ghobril, chief economist and head of the economic research and analysis department at Byblos Bank confirmed to Al Arabiya English that the bank had taken this step as some dollar withdrawals had been taken to external money exchange dealers and then traded at a higher rate.

The dynamic of traders looking to profit from foreign-currency shortages is not unusual, with black market and official valuations of currencies differing during times of economic crisis.

When prompted as to whether this same dynamic was present in Lebanon, Ghobril told Al Arabiya English “there is no black market.”

The bank added in its statement that customers can continue to enter into its physical branches in order to complete all bank operations, including cash withdrawal in all currencies.

Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world, at over 150 percent of GDP, combined with years of low economic growth. In early September, the Institute of International Finance said that the economy is now “at a turning point”.

Meanwhile in August, Fitch Ratings downgraded the country’s credit rating to CCC from B-. The agency said the downgrade reflected “intensifying pressure on Lebanon’s financing model and increasing risks to the government’s debt servicing capacity.”

The crisis sparked protests in the country’s capital of Beirut over the weekend.