Lebanese man’s case against Blom Bank can go to trial in an English court

Bilal Khalifeh unable to access $1.4m lifesavings amid restrictive capital controls on Lebanon’s banks

A general view shows the headquarters of the Lebanese Blom Bank in Beirut, Lebanon July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
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A UK resident deprived access to the majority of his life savings on deposit at Lebanon’s Blom Bank can take his claim to trial in England, a court in London has ruled, in an unprecedented case that could have ramifications for thousands of savers in Lebanese banks.

A judge in England’s High Court agreed with Bilal Khalifeh’s argument that as a UK domicile he could take Lebanon’s second largest bank to court for failing to return the more than $1.4 million (Dh5.14m) in his account.

Blom Bank’s legal team had sought to have the case heard in Lebanon.

Mr Khalifeh’s solicitors say it has opened up a new avenue for the thousands of expats who have been unable to withdraw money from Lebanese banks amid restrictive capital controls as Lebanon grapples with a crippling financial crisis.

"It is a significant decision in that it shows that Lebanese banks can be held to account before the English courts," Joseph McCormick, a partner at law firm Rosenblatt, told The National.

“It is a victory not just for Mr Khalifeh but for other deposit holders who are in a similar position and have so far been unable to have their voices heard.

It has widespread implications in that it is equally applicable to consumers domiciled in other member states within Europe. You could potentially see cases being brought against Lebanese banks in other European member states as a result,” Mr McCormick, who led the team, added.

Mr Khalifeh said he was delighted and urged Lebanon’s banks to give consumers their savings back.

“As a consumer resident in the UK I argued that Blom Bank are subject to the courts in my country of residence. This is a victory for Lebanese consumers. I brought the case out of frustration of Blom Bank’s refusal to return my life savings,” he said outside the court.

“It shows that no one, including banks in Lebanon, are above the law. I am very grateful to my whole legal team, I was in the fortunate position that I was able to afford to bring this case and I am mindful that not every consumer is able to do so.

“I hope that this case will help the many thousands of people in similar situations, but Lebanese banks should now do the right thing and pay all consumers their savings back,” Mr Khalifeh added.

Blom has often been selected as the best bank in Lebanon and has offices across the Middle East and in the UK, France and Cyprus.