Plummeting Syrian pound hits new black market low

A specialized website put the volatile exchange rate at 975 pounds to the dollar — more than double the official rate of 434 Syrian pounds. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Plummeting Syrian pound hits new black market low

  • The drop comes amid a spiraling liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • A specialized website put the volatile rate at 975 pounds to the dollar — more than double the official rate of 434 Syrian pounds

DAMASCUS: The value of the Syrian pound on the black market sank to 1,000 to the dollar at some money changers Tuesday, marking a new record low for the nosediving currency.
The drop comes amid a spiraling liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon, which has long served as a conduit for foreign currency entering the heavily sanctioned government-held areas of Syria.
One currency exchange office in the Syrian capital Damascus said he was selling dollars on the black market for 1,000 pounds for the first time on Tuesday.
A specialized website put the volatile rate at 975 pounds to the dollar — more than double the official rate of 434 Syrian pounds posted by the central bank on its website.
At the start of the war in 2011, the rate stood at around 48 pounds to the dollar.
In the Old City of Damascus, a trader who preferred not to give his name said everything from food to transport had become more expensive in recent weeks.
“Prices have doubled in the past two months,” the trader said.
“Everybody prices their items according to the new dollar exchange rate” on the black market, he explained.
Syria analyst Samuel Ramani said the pound had fallen by 30 percent since anti-government protests erupted in Lebanon on October 17.
An economic downturn has accelerated since the protests started, and a liquidity crunch has become more acute in a country that has long served as an economic and financial lifeline for dollar-starved Syrian businesses.
As Western sanctions tightened on Syria during the war, many in the country have opened businesses in neighboring Lebanon, stashed their money in its banks and used the country as a conduit for imports.
But Lebanese banks started introducing controls on dollar withdrawals over the summer, straining the supply of the greenback to Syrian markets.
“Lebanese banks are significant for Syria’s economy as they give Syria back door access to the US dollar,” he said.
“Based on commentaries from Syrian businesspeople, it appears as if the economic crisis in Syria is even worse than that in Lebanon as a result of the protests,” Ramani said.
In another part of Damascus, a 30-year-old working in a shop selling computers and mobile phones imported from Lebanon said the store had to increase all prices.
“In the end this is going to be reflected in the market and most people won’t be able to pay according to the new prices,” the young salesman said.
“We fear further collapse,” he added.
Syria’s eight-year civil war has battered the country’s economy, and depleted its foreign currency reserves.
An array of international sanctions has targeted President Bashar Assad’s regime and associated businessmen since the start of the war in 2011.
Authorities estimate that since 2011, Syria’s key oil and gas sector has suffered some $74 billion in losses.
The United Nations estimates the conflict has caused some $400 billion in war-related destruction.
It has also killed 370,000 people and displaced millions more.


Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

Updated 01 June 2020

Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

LONDON: Arab News has published the recording of an interview with a Nissan lawyer after he denied saying that a bailout of Lebanon by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was linked to the extradition of fugitive tycoon Carlos Ghosn.

The former Nissan chairman fled to Beirut in December from Japan, where he faced charges of financial wrongdoing.

In a story published in Arab News Japan on Saturday, Sakher El Hachem, Nissan’s legal representative in Lebanon, said the multibillion-dollar IMF bailout was contingent on Ghosn being handed back to Japan. 

The lawyer said IMF support for Lebanon required Japan’s agreement. Lebanese officials had told him: “Japan will assist Lebanon if Ghosn gets extradited,” the lawyer said

“For Japan to agree on that they want the Lebanese authorities to extradite Ghosn, otherwise they won’t provide Lebanon with financial assistance. Japan is one of the IMF’s major contributors … if Japan vetoes Lebanon then the IMF won’t give Lebanon money, except after deporting Ghosn.”

On Sunday, El Hachem denied making the comments. “The only thing I told the newspaper was that there should have been a court hearing on April 30 in Lebanon, but it was postponed because of the pandemic,” he said. In response, Arab News published the recording of the interview, in which he can be clearly heard making the statements attributed to him. 

Japan issued an arrest warrant after Ghosn, 66, escaped house arrest and fled the country.

Now listen to the recording: