BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank (JTB) sought to reassure customers on Friday after the US Treasury Department placed the lender and its subsidiaries on a sanctions list.
A JTB official said that “the bank and its funds are operating normally and there is no fear for the fate of their money.”
The bank was placed on a list issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The US Treasury Department accused JTB of providing financial and banking services to Hezbollah-owned institutions, including Al-Quard Al-Hassan, the Martyrs’ Foundation (Shahid), and Hezbollah’s Executive Council.
The bank stressed its strict commitment to the rules and regulations of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Banque du Liban, as well as international rules on money laundering and terrorist financing.
The governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, said that JTB has a presence in the Lebanese Central Bank and that all legitimate deposits are guaranteed at the time of their maturity.
Prof. Jassem Ajaka, an economic and strategic expert, said that JTB is one of Lebanon’s microfinance institutions in terms of size and spread. Ajaka added that the recent US decision may be related to the detection of “suspicious operations” in 2005 and 2006 linked to JTB accounts.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) regretted the decision to place JTB on the sanctions list, stressing that “this measure will not affect the banking sector in any way.”
ABL reassured depositors that their funds are safe with JTB, highlighting that “the Banque du Liban is capable of taking all necessary measures to address the situation.”
The banking sector is capable of absorbing the repercussions of the decision against JTB and securing the funds of depositors and rights holders.
Ali Hassan Khalil, Lebanese finance minister
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said that the banking sector is capable of absorbing the repercussions of the decision against JTB and securing the funds of depositors and rights holders.
Economist Violette Balaa said that the US decision is designed to cut off funding for Hezbollah. She said: “It is true that JTB is a small bank in Lebanon, but it was suspected of dealing with sanctioned institutions.”
Balaa said that this decision will not disturb the banking situation in Lebanon, highlighting that the sector had previously faced a similar crisis affecting Al-Madina Bank, which continued to operate at the time.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that JTB has a longstanding relationship with a major Hezbollah financial entity.
He said that JTB’s misconduct undermines the integrity of the Lebanese financial system.
Marshall Billingslea, the assistant secretary for terrorist financing in the US Department of the Treasury, said: “JTB is a primary Hezbollah banker in Lebanon, with a long and continuing history of providing an array of financial services to the terror group. JTB has tried to conceal its relationships with numerous front companies for the US-designated Martyrs Foundation.
“The malfeasance within JTB runs to the core. Hezbollah’s Member of Parliament, Amin Sherri, who engages in criminal behavior on behalf of Hezbollah, openly coordinates Hezbollah’s financial activities at the bank with its management.”
Billingslea called on the Banque du Liban to “take the appropriate steps to freeze, close, and liquidate JTB while resolving its legitimate outstanding debts to innocent account holders.”