Le Président de l’Association des Banques du Liban Salim Sfeir a estimé que la confiance ne pourra revenir qu’avec la formation d’un gouvernement composé de personnes ayant une expérience pratique face à la crise économique.
Le plus important est de rétablir la confiance, estime le responsable, avant de poursuivre que tout dépendra du nouveau gouvernement et de l’expertise de ses membres.
Salim Sfeir a également abordé la question des dernières circulaires de la Banque du Liban appelant à provisionner face aux pertes induites par l’état de défaut de paiement sur les Eurobonds ou encore à appeler une partie des déposants à rapatrier leurs fonds au Liban. Ces fonds devraient être placés auprès d’une banque correspondante aux établissements libanais – donc à l’étranger – et non auprès de la Banque du Liban, souligne le responsable, ce qui parait contradictoire par rapport aux objectifs de la BDL de reconstituer ses réserves monétaires. Il s’agirait, selon Salim Sfeir, de permettre “le retour” de 4 à 5 milliards de dollars, une somme toutefois placée à l’étranger si on lit entre les lignes.
La reconstitution des réserves monétaires de la Banque du Liban est cruciale pour permettre la poursuite du programme de subvention des produits de première nécessité comme la farine, les médicaments ou encore les carburants. Pour l’heure, des pénuries de médicaments ou encore de carburants sont constatées.
Salim Sfeir estime que la méthode la plus simple pour réduire la crise financière serait de procéder à une décôte ou un haircut, mais que cette procédure pourrait créer un problème social.Il s’agit de la première fois que cette méthode est même évoquée par lui. Jusqu’à présent, les responsables bancaires ont toujours écarté cette idée, préférant disposer des biens publics pour créer un fonds de garantie aux déposants. Cette proposition est cependant largement critiquée par les experts financiers, désormais également soutenus par le Président de la République Française Emmanuel Macron, estimant qu’il s’agirait plutôt de conserver les mêmes personnes à l’origine de la crise financière aux manettes plutôt que d’induire un changement de leadership, notant par ailleurs l’implication d’une grande partie de la classe politique au sein des établissements bancaires.
An estimate of $ 2 billion in funds transferred to Switzerland alone
As a reminder, the Attorney General of the Republic, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, officially asked the Swiss authorities and their Lebanese counterparts on December 30, 2019 , information concerning the transfer of funds to the Helvetian country. At the time, it was estimated at more than 11 billion dollars the funds transferred abroad after the establishment of a moratorium on transfers abroad by the Association of Banks of Lebanon (ABL) since last October. with the closure of local financial establishments following the demonstrations of October 17, then the introduction of capital controls in November.
Since then the monetary authorities have estimated the sums illegally transferred at $ 5 billion
Still at the time, some sources mention the sum of $ 2 billion, others that of $ 11 billion which would have been transferred to accounts in Switzerland. This money would belong to Lebanese politicians and businessmen who would thus try to cope with a possible downgrade of their accounts in Lebanon or the risk of seeing certain banks go bankrupt.
And the unwillingness of politicians and bankers to transfer
In addition, the Banque du Liban had called on local financial institutions to increase their own funds to 20% of deposits and to repatriate 3% of the sums they hold with their corresponding banks by February 28, 2020 as stipulated by the circular 154.
This same circular asks bank presidents, members of the board of directors, major shareholders and senior executives, as well as clients identified as “politically vulnerable persons” and who have transferred abroad more than $ 500,000 or its equivalent in other foreign currencies since July 2017, to deposit 30% of these funds and block them for five years.
Some sources have indicated that in the face of these refusals, some banks have bought large amounts of dollars in recent weeks on the black market, purchases having unbalanced supply and demand and caused a significant de facto devaluation of the Lebanese pound against the dollar. .
A number of these financial officials finally announced their resignations so as not to be obliged to repatriate their funds.
Lebanon accumulates crises
Lebanon is now faced with several crises, economic crisis, crisis linked to the coronavirus, and now crisis linked to the explosion of the port of Beirut, to which is now added a political crisis due to the resignation of the Hassan Diab government .
The Land of Cedars has been without government since August 10.
For the time being, the release of international aid is conditional on the outcome of the negotiations undertaken with the IMF, which requires that the necessary reforms be put in place, particularly economic and monetary reforms. Indeed, many sources or personalities involved in the case multiply the declarations indicating that the international community will not grant “no blank check to Lebanon”, following the non-respect by Beirut of its promises and its commitment to carry out. the reforms necessary for economic recovery already at the Paris I, II and III conferences in the 2000s.
The banking sector crisis, although masked by the financial engineering operations carried out by the Banque du Liban, had started much earlier, despite the colossal profits announced by Lebanese banks until last year. In reality, the Banque du Liban thus repaid nearly 16 billion dollars between 2016 and 2018, thus emptying a large part of its monetary reserves in favor of banking establishments.
On the economic front, the crisis that began in 2018 came to light in the summer of 2019 with a shortage of foreign currency, which is nevertheless necessary for the purchase of basic necessities in particular. However, a reversal of financial flows had been observed as early as January 2019. This crisis was then accentuated following the unilateral imposition by Lebanese banks of capital controls, thus blocking access to accounts.
In addition, the deterioration of socio-economic conditions led to numerous demonstrations from October 2019, the demonstrators denouncing a political class considered as corrupt and demanding the departure.
After the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on October 29, 2019, a new government chaired by his successor Hassan Diab was formed on January 17, 2020. As early as March, the Lebanese authorities announced a state of default on maturing Eurobonds. In addition, Lebanon has opened negotiations with the IMF with a view to obtaining economic aid of the expected amount of 10 billion dollars.
However, the negotiations, now suspended, quickly stumbled over the capacity of the Lebanese authorities to carry out the reforms necessary for the release of international aid as well as on the issue of quantifying the losses of the financial sector. The Lebanese authorities estimate that its losses would reach 241 trillion Lebanese pounds on the basis of an exchange rate of 3600 LL / USD. , that is to say approximately 80 billion dollars, which the local banks refuse via the association of the banks of Lebanon or the Bank of Lebanon itself.
The association of banks in Lebanon has thus activated its relays present in parliament. via the parliamentary finance and budget committee. The latter, where some shareholders and representatives of local banks are present, only quantified the financial losses at 81 trillion Lebanese pounds on the basis of an exchange rate of 1507 LL / USD. .
Henceforth, this encryption of the accounts of the Banque du Liban should be carried out by the firms Alvarez & Marsal for the forensic audit and by KPMG and Oliver Wyman for the normal audit . First approached to conduct the forensic audit, the Kroll cabinet, specializing in the matter was dismissed following pressure from the president of the chamber Nabih Berri, considering the company linked to the Hebrew state .
In parallel, the association of banks in Lebanon presented a rescue plan rejected by the IMF and the Lebanese authorities, providing for the sale of part of Lebanon’s gold and the fixed-term session of public goods. This plan is also rejected by specialists who believe that the sale of public goods could only be done by selling them off because of the current circumstances.
Some sources are now citing losses for the financial sector exceeding $ 100 billion, estimating that Lebanon would now require a stimulus package of 63 billion dollars but only 26 billion at most are available . According to these same sources, all Lebanese banks are now insolvent.
The economic situation has further deteriorated with the deterioration in the value of the Lebanese pound and the implementation of different exchange rates: official exchange rate at 1507 LL / USD, the so-called market exchange rate. for stockbrokers or some companies fixed by the Bank of Lebanon, today at 3,900 LL / USD and the black market exchange rate, which fluctuated until reaching 9,000 LL / USD, in June.
Finally, the explosion of the port of Beirut , which also ravaged much of the Lebanese capital, further aggravated the situation, with damage estimated at between $ 10 billion and $ 15 billion.
Thus, if the growth rate of gross domestic product is estimated at -14% before this explosion, d New estimates point to an economic recession of -24% in 2020 .
At the same time, Lebanon is also affected by the coronavirus. The measures taken by the authorities have proved to be insufficient today and the country of cedars risks losing control of the epidemic, with an almost uncontrolled increase in the number of cases, especially after the explosion of the port of Beirut. Now, current hospital capacities have been saturated for 2 weeks, also leading to an increase in the number of deaths since the end of August.
For the time being, some experts familiar with the matter note with concern that politico-economic interests are more important for certain parties than the general interest in benefiting from economic aid in the face of the crisis, to the point of estimating that traditional divisions political parties have faded from parliament in favor of the banking party and others.
Also, some of these interests would even have gone so far as to threaten a civil war if the reforms demanded by the international community were carried out. However, it remains firm on this matter.
During his trip to Lebanon on the occasion of the centenary of the proclamation of the state of Greater Lebanon, on September 1, 2020, the day after the appointment of Mustafa Adib as prime minister , the President of the French Republic would thus have handed over to the Lebanese leaders, a roadmap for the implementation of the economic reforms deemed necessary and first, a diagnosis of the losses of the Banque du Liban. This roadmap also provided for the establishment within two weeks of a government capable of carrying out these reforms. However, 15 days later, following the expiry of the allotted time, the Lebanese authorities seem to have failed to set up a new cabinet, notably following the announcement by Washington of economic sanctions targeting Ali Hassan Khalil, arms- right of Nabih Berri and former Minister of Finance, the other political parties having accepted the principle of rotation of sovereign ministerial portfolios, namely defense, interior, foreign affairs and finance.
On September 21, 2020, the President of the Republic considers that Lebanon is currently heading “to hell” due to the deterioration of social and economic conditions, further acknowledging that the reserves of the Banque du Liban – currently subsidizing the purchase of basic necessities – will be exhausted shortly.
On September 26, taking note of his failure, the prime minister-designate announced his resignation from the steps of the Baabda Palace, plunging Lebanon a little more into crisis.
For his part, the governor of the Bank of Lebanon Riad Salamé announces, in August, the end of subsidies to essential products within 2 to 3 months due to the decrease in monetary reserves of the Central Bank.
This announcement comes as negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are still suspended and a forensic audit of the Banque du Liban is taking place.
Thunderclap, the firm of Alvarez & Marsal announces its withdrawal from the forensic audit procedure , November 20, 2020 after the Banque du Liban refused to answer 57% of the questions asked , under the pretext of the credit and currency code or even legislation related to banking secrecy, plunging Lebanon into uncertainty. Indeed, this audit is now considered essential for obtaining assistance from the international community. The Ministry of Finance or that of justice considered that the contract did not violate the texts in force.
In his speech on the occasion of the 77th commemoration of the independence of Lebanon, General Michel Aoun indicates that the procedure should nevertheless go to the end and therefore envisages recourse to parliament to force the Banque du Liban to comply while the governor of the Banque du Liban Riad Salamé would be in Paris in order, indicate some sources, to find an agreement with France, leader of the community international organization which remains intractable so far on the need to conduct a forensic audit of central bank accounts.
April 7, 2021, the President of the Republic General Michel Aoun publicly denounced the ill will of the Ministry of Finance Ghazi Wazni and the Governor of the Banque du Liban Riad Salamé without, however, directly naming them in the face of the various pitfalls and obstacles faced with the forensic audit of the Banque du Liban accounts and called for a meeting of the Hassan Diab government to examine this file and reveal the underside of what he almost describes. as a sabotage of the procedure.
The head of state also accused the governor of the Banque du Liban of practices contrary to local financial legislation, such as the use of private deposits as currency reserves. The President of the Republic recalled the various steps taken by certain parties to avoid this audit of the central bank. He also recalled that this procedure is not only a personal request of the Head of State but also of the international community, a prerequisite for the release of funds from CEDRE and the IMF.
In addition, in the face of the crisis, some correspondent banks of the BdL would have closed the accounts , indicates in a letter Riad Salamé.
These would include dollar accounts with Wells Fargo, sterling accounts with HSBC, Swedish krona with Danske and Canadian dollar accounts with CIBS.
According to the governor of the Banque du Liban, these decisions would be motivated by the state of default, the political campaigns targeting the Bank of Lebanon and by “the judicial outcry”, allusion to accusations of embezzlement and corruption against Riad. Salamé himself