AL-MUKALLA: A major Yemeni bank on Sunday reopened branches across the country, days after shuttering its operations in the wake of a raid by the Houthis on the bank’s headquarter in Sanaa.
Last week, Houthi intelligence operatives stormed the main office of Tadhamon Bank in Sanaa and ordered workers to leave the building before switching off servers and cameras. The operatives seized control of the building for days and stopped operations, forcing the bank to close its branches across Yemen, giving employees leave and barring customers from making withdrawals and other transactions.
On Thursday, the bank issued a statement saying that it is in contact with the Houthi-controlled central bank for clarification about the raid, adding that the closure had disrupted the distribution of humanitarian assistance and affected customers’ businesses.
The internationally-recognized-government of Yemen relocated the headquarters of the central bank to Aden in 2016 to deprive the Houthis of a huge source of finance and have sought to convince Sanaa-based banks and mobile operators to move their operations to Aden.
Established in 1996, Tadhamon Bank has 37 branches and more than 700 employees, and is owned by Hayed Saeed Anam Group, a major Yemeni family-owned conglomerate.
The Houthi central bank said it ordered the raid after finding out that the bank is involved in illegal financial activities such as large speculation on hard currencies and smuggling money abroad.
Private banks and mobile firms have long complained about Houthi harassment and the installing of operatives in their companies to monitor their financial activities, accusing the rebels of fleecing them by imposing high taxes to fund their military activities.
“The Houthi observers have their own office inside all banks and exchange companies in their territories,” an official at a private bank in Yemen told Arab News on Sunday.
Despite Houthi raids and charges, local observers and bank officials doubted that Tadhamon Bank or any other major company would move to Aden, given the fact that most of their customers are from the densely populated areas in Houthi-controlled territories. The continuing tension between the government and the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council that led to sporadic clashes in southern provinces has also discouraged companies from moving.
Another reason for not relocating is the fear of Houthi reprisals. “The bank is afraid of meeting the fate of Sabafon,” an employee at Tadhamon Bank said, referring to a major Yemeni mobile operator that relocated its main offices and operations from Houthi-held Sanaa to Aden in September. The Houthis punished Sabafon by banning other companies and landlines from calling its subscribers and cutting off Internet services. The Houthis reopened the company in Sanaa after seizing control of the companies’ servers and computers and issued new SIM cards.
Abdullah Al-Awadhi, a Sabafon spokesman, said on Saturday that the company did not regret moving operations to government-controlled Aden despite heavy losses. “The company relocated to Aden due to nationalist and morale motives,” Al-Awadhi said, urging other mobile firms to leave Sanaa to avoid Houthi extortion and harassment.
Economists have called for financial companies and whole banking sectors in Yemen to be kept neutral, warning against huge economic repercussions due to the war between the Aden-based central bank and the Houthi-controlled central bank in Sanaa and Houthi raids on banks.
Studies Economic Media Center (SEMC), a Yemeni think tank, criticized the Houthis for raiding banks and abducting their officials, warning that such steps would harm the reputation of the Yemeni banking sector and exacerbate the current dire humanitarian crisis.
“This is a dangerous step that will lead to disastrous repercussions at the local, regional and international levels and will affect the reputation of the Yemeni banking sector, local economy and people’s living,” the center said.