BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese judge on Monday froze the assets of five of Lebanon’s largest banks and those of their board of directors as she investigates possible transfers of billions of dollars aboard during the country’s economic meltdown.
The state-run National News Agency said the decision by Judge Ghada Aoun with Mount Lebanon district court covers real estate, vehicles and shares that the five banks or their directors own in other companies.
The move came days after Aoun imposed travel bans on the directors of the five banks. Local TV stations said the travel bans were precautionary as auditors look into transfers by the banks worth $5 billion.
Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls since the economic crisis began in October 2019 after decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class. Since then, people do not have full access to their savings and those who withdraw cash from their U.S. dollar accounts get an exchange rate far lower than that of the black market.
In January, Aoun also imposed a travel ban on Lebanon’s central bank governor after a corruption lawsuit accused him of embezzlement and dereliction of duty during the crisis.
Separately, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday he will not run for parliament in the May 15 vote, but vowed to continue work to pull Lebanon out of its crippling economic and financial crisis that has left more than 75% of the country’s 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, in poverty.
Two other prominent Sunni Muslim politicians, former prime ministers Saad Hariri and Tammam Salam, have also said they would not run for parliament. Doors closed for candidacy later Monday.
Lebanese opposition groups have struggled to form a united front while the powerful militant Hezbollah group will be running on a joint list with its allies, including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and parliament speaker Nabih Berri's Amal group.
Hezbollah and its allies hold majority seats in the 128-member legislature. Their opponents hope to deprive them of the majority in May’s vote, riding on the wave of public anger against the country’s political class.
Under Lebanon's power-sharing agreement, the prime minister is selected from the country's Sunnis. The president is Christian and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Parliament and Cabinet seats are equally divided between Muslims and Christians.