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Lebanon Table of Contents


International Banking

Many international banks pulled out of Beirut in the 1980s. For example, the First National Bank of Chicago sold its local interests to local investors for US$7.5 million in 1982. But the replacement institution, First Phoenician Bank, ran into liquidity problems in 1984, when the managing director, Waji Muawad, allegedly absconded with US$13 million of the bank's funds. Bank Al Mashrek initiated takeover proceedings in 1985.

In 1985 Bank Al Mashrek also bought two branches of the British Standard Chartered Bank. Banque Libano-Franšaise bought the Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia's local operation. The Moscow Narodny Bank closed its branch, handing over its local business to Bank Handlowy for the Middle East, the local subsidiary of Warsaw's Bank Handlowy. The Chase Manhattan Bank and Bank of America both closed their Beirut operations, the former handing over its business to Banque Sabbag et Franšaise pour le Moyen Orient. By the end of 1986, only two United States banks were still operating in Lebanon--Citibank and American Express International.

The British Bank of the Middle East (BBME), the second largest foreign bank in Lebanon, resisted the trend as long as possible. In 1976 the bank's headquarters in Bab Idris had been the target for one of the biggest heists in history. Losses of cash and contents of safe-deposit boxes amounted to about US$24 million. BBME recovered and maintained operations, however, and opened branches in East Beirut as that part of the city became a distinct entity. At the start of Amin Jumayyil's presidency, BBME's future appeared promising. Its assets stood at Lú1.3 billion (about US$315 million). But the growing insecurity of 1984, the kidnapping of two senior managers, and a robbery in West Beirut in 1985 prompted the management to close down four of its six branches in the Greater Beirut area at the end of 1985. Thereafter, the bank maintained a single branch in West Beirut, another in East Beirut, and a third in Tripoli.

Data as of December 1987