#SwissLeaks: Lebanon Is #11 and #12 In Countries With The Most Money In Swiss Banks

We often hear that the Lebanese diaspora has a lot of money and is quite well off. That is the impression that we leave abroad. When I was in France, the stereotype that many seem to attribute with Lebanese is being rich. As my grandma would say: a reputation of richness is better than that of poverty.

But how rich are the Lebanese abroad? How much money do they have in foreign banks? Well, how about we discover the situation in the banking capital of the world: Switzerland. After all, aren’t we the Switzerland of the Middle East?

A fascinating report has surfaced online yesterday  detailing information that was “stolen” by Hervé Falciani, a former employee at HSBC Switzerland’s HQ in Geneva. The information dates back from 2007. It encompasses a timeframe of a few months’ worth of transactions across HSBC in Geneva: between November 9th, 2006 and March 31st, 2007.

The information was recently uncovered by French newspaper “Le Monde.” Going over the hundreds of thousands of info has allowed investigative journalists to compile a list of top countries when it comes to clients at HSBC in Switzerland as well as top countries by deposited amounts.

This small country of 10452 squared kilometers and of about than 4 million people has the #11 highest number of clients in the world, ahead of places like Germany, Spain and Canada. Moreover, when it comes to the amount of money that those Lebanese have deposited, Lebanon ranks at #12 with a staggering amount of $4.8 billion of transactions in those 4 months alone. That amount puts Lebanon ahead of countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Cayman Islands.

To assess how big the $4.8 billion amount is, I made a quick search to see the situation of deposits in Lebanese banks. According to this report by the Audi Group Lebanese banks saw a total of $5.8 billion in growth in transactions during 2014.

Sure, the comparison is not entirely sensical, but it still serves to assess exactly how gargantuan an amount Lebanese citizens had at a foreign bank.

Why would Lebanese want that much money in Swiss banks? Well, for starters Swiss banks are known for their secrecy, although that’s ironic at a time like this. The situation in Switzerland, with its stability and neutrality from international conflicts, also permits ease of mind when it comes to such massive amounts as opposed to the volatility of the Lebanese side. Moreover, having such deposits at Swiss banks enables easier access to the European market for possible investments. The date of the information being 2006-2007, however, could have skewed numbers post the July 2006 war although I’d assume the recent situation isn’t exactly much better for investors.

Who are some of the names with money at HSBC in Switzerland? The leaked information has some of those too according to L’Orient Le Jour.

Elias el Murr, son of Metn powerhouse Michel el Murr and former minister of defense, had a staggering amount of $42 million, in accounts which he says date back to before his birth. Mohammad Safadi, the Tripoli MP and former minister has $75 million deposited at HSBC in Switzerland. Meanwhile, former Keserwan MP Georges Frem has about $3.3 million in deposits.

Good for them! Hopefully many of us have that kind of money one day.

Meanwhile, for some food for thought, it’s worth looking at the situation in Lebanon that is scaring away both foreign and Lebanese investors alike. Between detrimental security, poor governance, terrible infrastructure, a non-manageable refugee crisis, wars all around us that always manage to seep in and dead on arrival civil movements, the extent of such news becomes even more important.

What’s sad is that apart from L’Orient Le Jour, no Lebanese newspaper or media outlet has discussed this information or what it could mean. Obviously, because there are no porn stars, no banana songs and no traitorous selfie with no possibility for a “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو ” headline, this becomes irrelevant.

 

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Lebanon’s Independence Day

Most countries around the world celebrate their “Independence Day” with ecstatic joy. To all of those countries, it is a reminder of their struggle to break free from superpowers that were using their land, their people, their resources…

In Lebanon, November 22nd has become a national mourning day of some sorts. What are the people mourning? The French citizenship that could have been.

What is the notion of Independence and why do many Lebanese find it easy to ridicule the independence of their country? Contrary to popular belief, I feel proud on November 22nd, just as I feel proud about Lebanon any day. My country has grave flaws but regardless of those flaws, it exists.

The reason it’s so hard for many Lebanese to see their country as independent is because the notion of independence is grossly overestimated. No country in the whole world is truly independent from other countries. Example? The USA has a national debt of over $14 trillion, a big chunk of which is to China. Why do you think the US is struggling to fix its national budget nowadays? To fix the economy? Partly yes. But mostly to lessen this national debt and its dependence on other countries, such as China.

The difference between people in the US and Lebanon is that they have national pride that does not waver while we have a national pride as firm as water. The difference between us and them is that, even though they do have poverty and even though some of their States have horrible internet and even though the 3G provided by many of their carriers is not good, they feel proud to call themselves American. How many of us feel proud to call ourselves Lebanese?

You do know that the problems in countries such as the US, France, Switzerland, etc… are very similar to our problems? You have villages in the United States whose only source of livelihood is the production of crystal meth. You have places in France, like Lebanon, where it’s so corrupt that the police doesn’t dare enter. And then you have Switzerland, a country that, despite the great diversity of its people, managed to find a way to get them to coexist.

The problem in Lebanon? Our problems are magnified because of our country’s small size.

Some of us blame our politicians. We say they got us into this predicament. But simply put, our politicians arise from our society – they are inherently part of us. We voted for them and got them where they are today. But our “Independence” day is not our politicians’ to take. It is for all of us as a nation to celebrate: the sacrifices of our forefathers against the French Mandate to establish the Republic of Lebanon.

Others still call for a French (or any other “decent” country) mandate, wishing we were still under one. You know, if our forefathers found the situation under the French to be absolutely peachy and happy, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have fought to get Lebanon out of the mandate. Perhaps you should contemplate what all these superpowers are secretly doing in African countries where their influence is much more penetrating, where they still control national resources and lead the people of those countries to kill each other?

At the end of the day, it is hard for many to see Lebanon as independent because we live in a very, very difficult region. I look around and see Syria where Bashar Assad is killing his people left and right. I look to the South and see Israel/Palestine, both of which want a piece of my land as well and both of whom tried to get it as some point. And then I consider all those Arab countries and see that for a small country like mine, I’m sure of utter importance to them. Why is that? Why is it that many countries around the world can’t wait to get their hands on something related to my country? No, it’s not overwhelming pride. It’s an observation. Perhaps because they know that, as divided as we are, it makes it much easier for them to put their hands on our resources, our people and our land?

Our Independence is wasted by none-other than us: the people who let other countries wage their wars on our land. And amid everything that’s happening in the region around us today, perhaps we should be less critical and more vigilant against all of these countries with messed up systems that are ready to move their fights inside our borders.

You don’t want to call it independence, fine. Call it Lebanon’s National Day. But regardless of terminology, you should at least feel a stinge of pride that you have a country and, despite all its problems and the problems thrust upon it, it exists.