x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Syria bank chief points to insider in $10m theft

The chief of a Syrian bank that fell victim to a $10 million robbery believes it was an inside job.

The chief of a Syrian bank that fell victim to a US$10 million (Dh36.7m) robbery believes it was an inside job.

Some $3.4m in cash, €4.75m (Dh23.6m) and 33m Syrian pounds (Dh1.7m) was stolen from the vault of the International Bank for Trade and Finance (IBTF) in Damascus on January 17, the bank said.

"The bank's management only discovered the robbery on the following Sunday," said Sultan Al Zobi, the chief executive.

He added that he believed a bank employee was involved in the raid but did not elaborate further.

The bank, whose major shareholder is Jordan's Housing Bank for Trade and Finance, said it had notified the authorities. An investigation was under way.

"It has also notified the insurance company to cover for potential losses," said the bank.

As Syria descends into chaos, businesses across the country are reporting a rapid rise in theft, armed robbery and looting.

It has compounded problems for Syria's 12 private banks, considered the crown jewels of president Bashar Al Assad's economic modernisation plan.

IBTF made profits of 332m Syrian pounds in the first three quarters of last year, compared with 743.8m pounds a year earlier.

"We hope this crisis will come to an end, sooner or later," said Mr Al Zobi. "We think the future in Syria and the business in Syria is promising. But for the banks, no doubt, the crisis has affected us."

It could take up to three years for the lender to recoup the losses, said a Damascus-based stockbroker who declined to be identified.

"The stolen amount at $10m, or 709m pounds, comprises about one fifth of the bank's capital," he said.

Omar Malhas, the chief executive at Housing Bank for Trade and Finance, declined to comment yesterday.

Private bank disclosures revealed this month that lenders have started to move their deposits to the capital from conflict areas, such as Homs and Aleppo, where fighting between Mr Al Assad's forces and the Free Syrian Army is rampant.

Banque Bemo Saudi Fransi on January 22 said 7.3m Syrian pounds went missing on its way from Deir Al Zor to Damascus.

In September, the bank said that it had incurred losses from fraud and forgery totalling 25m pounds. Syria International Islamic Bank, the largest shareholder of which is Qatar International Islamic Bank, said in the same month it had been targeted in a Homs robbery of 75.2m pounds.

Trading on the Damascus Securities Exchange has slowed to a trickle in recent months as violence escalated in the capital and other cities. But exchange officials say they remain committed to offering investors a place to trade their holdings.

The Damascus Securities Exchange General Index has lost more than half of its value since the uprising began. It traded at 1,523.14 points on March 15, 2011, the start of the uprising, and has since fallen to 784.37.

The IMF has not provided figures on the Syrian economy since the start of violence.