Syrian President Bashar Assad said much of his country’s current economic distress is a direct result of the banking crisis in neighboring Lebanon, where many Syrian businessmen have traditionally kept their money.
Assad claimed that between $20 billion and $42 billion held by Syrians are estimated to be tied up in Lebanese banks according to a report from the Star Tribune.
“This number for an economy like Syria is a scary number,” Assad said, according to a recording published by SANA, the state news agency.
Lebanon is facing a serious banking crisis, which has resulted in informal capital controls to help combat capital flight and prop a flailing local currency. Presently, depositors are unable to make foreign transfers but there is a limit on how much they can withdraw.
Assad doesn’t blame the banks for the ongoing sanctions for the ongoing crisis as most government officials do. “When the banks in Lebanon closed, we paid the price. This is the essence of the problem,” he said in the report.
Low oil prices and poor access to the northeast of Syria, where much of the country’s wheat is grown, also played a part, he said.
The local Syrian currency crashed in recent months making it more difficult for many Syrians to buy food. More than 80% of the Syrian population live in poverty, according to the United Nations.