Lebanon's banks 'can withstand US Hezbollah sanctions'

Jammal Trust Bank has been funnelling cash to the armed movement, Washington has alleged.

    The Hezbollah movement commands significant support across Lebanon, but particularly in Beirut's southern suburbs [Aziz Taher/Reuters]
    The Hezbollah movement commands significant support across Lebanon, but particularly in Beirut's southern suburbs [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

    Lebanon's banking industry can handle the effects of US sanctions against Jammal Trust Bank SAL and guarantee customers their money, the country's finance minister said on Friday.

    Ali Hassan Khalil said on Twitter he was confident "of the banking sector's ability to absorb the implications...and guarantee the money of depositors... and the central bank is doing what is necessary".

    Jammal Trust Bank on Friday rejected allegations that it helps to fund Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah and said it plans to appeal against US sanctions.

    Washington hit the bank and its subsidiaries with sanctions on Thursday for allegedly facilitating the financial activities of the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. The US Treasury Department accused the bank of funnelling money to the families of suicide bombers.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was determined to cut off support in Lebanon for the group, which Washington classifies as a terrorist organisation.

    Hezbollah's political wing, which follows a Shia Islamist platform, is one of the most influential in the country, with 12 seats in Lebanon's parliament, as well as holding the ministries of industry and sport and youth. Its armed wing has, for decades, waged a deadly campaign against Israel. It also has fighters operating in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.

    Washington offers $10m reward for information on Hezbollah's finances

    'Deposits guaranteed'

    Jammal Trust, a 50-year-old commercial bank with branches throughout Lebanon, said it "unequivocally denies all the allegations" that prompted what it described as "surprising" sanctions.

    The bank's statement said it has "unwavering commitment to ...  international regulations on countering money laundering and terrorism financing" and that it would work with Lebanon's central bank to protect depositors.

    Lebanon's central bank governor Riad Salameh on Friday told the Arab Economic News website that it would closely follow Jammal Trust's case and would guarantee "all legal deposits".

    Washington has long sought to choke off Hezbollah funding, with sanctions among a slew of fresh measures against Tehran since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies