IMF begins talks with Lebanese officials in effort to resolve nation’s financial crisis

Prime Minister Hassan Diab will meet a delegation from the International Monetary Fund to discuss Lebanon's waning economy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

IMF begins talks with Lebanese officials in effort to resolve nation’s financial crisis

  • International Monetary Fund will give advice but final decision rests with Lebanon’s government
  • As financial chaos continues, money changers are accused of profiteering, and robberies are more common

BEIRUT: Meetings between Lebanese officials and a delegation from the International Monetary Fund began on Tuesday in an attempt to find a solution to the nation’s financial crisis.

Lebanon asked the IMF six days ago for help to develop an economic rescue plan in light of a $1.2billion Eurobond debt that is due for repayment on March 9. It is the first of three looming debts due between now and June, worth $2.5bn in total, plus an additional $2bn in interest on a $30 billion debt portfolio.

The participants in the meetings will include Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, central bank Governor Riad Salameh and representatives of the Banking Control Commission of Lebanon.

“Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis is being addressed to mitigate its repercussions,” President Michel Aoun told the UK’s Senior Defense Adviser for Middle Eastern Affairs, Lt. Gen. Sir John Lorimer. “The IMF will provide its technical expertise in setting up a plan.

“The unstable situation in several Middle Eastern countries in general, and in Syria in particular, has negatively affected Lebanon.”

Amal Movement MP Yassin Jaber said: “Lebanon will wait for what the IMF delegation has to say. It will advise Lebanon and will not impose anything. It will then be up to the 20-minister cabinet to decide whether or not to take the advice.”

The economic uncertainty has caused chaos in the money markets, and anger at what many see as profiteering by the banks and money changers. They have hiked the exchange rate against the dollar to 2,500 Lebanese pounds, even though the official exchange rate remains at 1,507, and in defiance of an agreement to limit the rate to 2,000 pounds.

“The banks’ practices are a form of systematic fraud. They are confiscating the depositors’ money after having (imposed) high interest rates and reaped huge profits,” said MP Mohammad Kabbara.

Mahmoud Murad, the head of the Syndicate of Money Changers in Lebanon, said: “The 2,000 Lebanese pounds price that was agreed upon between the (syndicate) and Salameh after the new government received the parliament’s confidence did not last for more than a week. This is due to the competition from illegal money changers found on roads and in homes.”

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Judge Ali Ibrahim, Lebanon’s financial public prosecutor, on Tuesday filed charges against 18 money changers accused of “violating the currency-exchange law and harming the state’s financial prestige.”

“In its report published two years ago, the IMF said that the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound to the dollar is higher than its actual rate,” said economist Nassib Gabriel.

“In the opinion of the IMF, the political authority has to make a decision on paying the due debt and undergoing reforms. What is important is for the government to have a comprehensive rescue plan, and I do not think that we have enough time to decide on anything else other than paying the due amount.”

The dire economic situation in the country has provoked widespread protests, including demonstrations outside the Central Bank.

It has also sparked an increase in thefts and robberies, which was highlighted during the most recent Central Security Council meeting.

In one incident reported by the National News Agency, gunmen broke into the house of a man in Baalbek, in Bekaa Region, on Monday night and took him to a gas station he owns where they forced him to empty the safe.
 


Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

Fadi Hidmi. (Supplied)
Updated 52 min 40 sec ago

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

  • East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN: Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Hidmi was released by Israeli police on Friday afternoon after being arrested for the fourth time without charge.

Ministry spokesman Awad Awad told Arab News that Hidmi had been “warned” not to “move around” or “do any work in” Jerusalem in accordance with measures being taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Awad also claimed that Hidmi had been physically abused by the police, saying that the minister was “punched in the face and forced to wear a mask with blood on it.”

CCTV at Hidmi’s Mount of Olives house show that he was manhandled by Israeli police during his arrest in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest.

Rosenfeld told the Israeli press that Hidmi was arrested “on suspicion of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.”

He said police searched Hidmi’s home and confiscated documents as well as “large sums of money. Israeli media said that the police had confiscated NIS10,000 ($2,750) found in the house.

Hidmi, a Jerusalem resident, was the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Industry before accepting his current job in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government.

Before Hidmi’s release on Friday, Shtayyeh wrote on social media: “Israel targets who work for #Jerusalem, even at such critical moments as we work to save our people's lives from #COVID19.”

East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jamil Kousa, director of the St. Joseph hospital, told Palestine TV that he was only informed on March 25 that his hospital should be prepared to accept patients with COVID-19.

Ahmad Buderi, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance — an organization launched to help combat COVID-19 — has said that people in the city are depending almost solely on local initiatives to deal with the pandemic.

Before his arrest, Hidmi launched the website madad.ps to coordinate the distribution of urgenly needed food and medical supplies to the city’s residents.

Walid Nammour, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Hospital Network, estimates that the city’s six hospitals need $7 million to to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.

Nammour told Arab News that 300-400 ventilators are needed and that only 26 are available at present.