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Commercial disputes, Banking and financial servicesMonday 28 February 2022

Lebanese banks – who have been refusing to pay customers due to the country’s economic crisis – ordered to make international transfers

In one of The Lawyer’s ‘Top 20 Cases of 2022’, Manoukian v Société Générale Banque Liban and Bank Audi, Bobby Friedman and Caspar Bartscherer (led by Daniel Toledano QC), have successfully acted for Mr Manoukian in obtaining an order for payment of international transfers from his bank accounts held with the defendants, who are two of the largest banks in Lebanon.

Given the expedited nature of the Claim, Mr Justice Picken announced his decision on 25 February 2022, with reasons to follow.

Since the onset of the Lebanese economic crisis, Lebanese banks, including the defendants, have refused to make international transfers of the sums held with them in foreign currency by their customers.

Mr Vatche Manoukian, a dual national of Lebanon and the United Kingdom, was one of the customers who has been denied access to his funds. The banks steadfastly refused to pay Mr Manoukian and insisted that he had no right to an international transfer. Then, seven weeks before trial, the banks purported to “repay” Mr Manoukian by a process known as the “Tender and Deposit”, in which they deposited cheques with a notary public in Lebanon. The banks maintained that this gave them a further defence to the claim for an international transfer.

Mr Manoukian maintained throughout that he was entitled to an international transfer of his funds and also said that the “Tender and Deposit” was invalid because of the pre-existing obligation on the banks to perform the international transfer.

Mr Justice Picken has now decided that the banks are obliged to make the international transfers requested by Mr Manoukian.

This appears to be the first substantive decision outside of Lebanon holding that a customer has a right to an international transfer.

Bobby and Caspar were instructed by Graham Shear of BCLP, together with a team including Andrew Street and Fiona Boyle.

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