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French Version


Investors optimistic about Lebanon's economic future

Action against Syrian bank accounts feared

Bankers and investors are cautiously optimistic about Lebanon's economic future despite the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and the resignation of the government.

"We have not lost our faith in the country because we have passed through more difficult times in the past," the chairman of Byblos Bank Francois Bassil told The Daily Star.

He added that he had not noticed any significant cash withdrawals from his bank.

Sami Saliba, from the Bank of Beirut, also said that bank deposits were almost intact.

"On the contrary, we had some new deposits from non-Lebanese residents and Arab investors in the past few days," Saliba said.

These assurances allayed the fears of some analysts that the political crisis and the sharp debate over Resolution 1559 may force investors to withdraw their deposits and investments from the country.

One day after the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami, observers and politicians were weighting all possible scenarios from the unexpected downfall of the unpopular, pro-Syrian Cabinet.

Bassil and Saliba believe that Lebanon will not defy the international community, indicating that most Lebanese want the Syrian army out of the country.

Bankers, who played a major role in shaping the Lebanese economy, are confidentially urging the government and main political parties to tone down their rhetoric and avoid an unnecessary showdown with the international community.

The U.S. and France have not yet decided to take any punitive measure against Lebanon and Syria although this option has not been ruled out if Beirut and Damascus refuse to implement Resolution 1559.

"We fear that the U.S. may even put some of the Lebanese banks that deal with Syria on the blacklist," one banker said.

BLOM, BEMO and several other Lebanese banks opened branches in Syria in 2003 to tap into the virgin market.

What is even more worrying is the possibility of blacklisting any bank which has Syrian deposits.

According to sources, more than 10 percent of the deposits in Lebanese banks belong to non-Lebanese residents.

"Syrian nationals have nearly $4 billion in deposits in Lebanese banks but these figures cannot be substantiated due to the banking secrecy law," one banker said.

However, other bankers brushed off the possibility of U.S. sanctions, arguing that the West has no interest in destabilizing the Lebanese economy.

They added that Lebanon and Syria will eventually succumb to U.S. pressure and gradually implement Resolution 1559.

Adnan Kassar, former minister of economy and trade, said on Tuesday that Arab investors are still interested in Lebanon despite recent events.

Beirut 06-03-2005
Osama Habib
The Daily Star



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