Lebanese pound hits all-time low as deadlock persists

BEIRUT (AP) — The value of the Lebanese pound hit an all-time low Thursday, trading at 50,000 to the US dollar, as the country’s deeply-divided parliament failed to elect a president for an 11th time.

The cash-strapped country’s national currency, once valued at 1,500 to the dollar, has been tanking since late 2019 and has since lost over 90% of its value. The financial crisis has plunged three-quarters of the population into poverty, with millions struggling to cope with some of the world’s sharpest inflation. Experts blame the country’s entrenched ruling elites for decades of corruption and financial mismanagement.

The Lebanese pound’s plunge comes days after a European judicial delegation from France, Germany, and Luxembourg landed in Beirut to interrogate embattled Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and a dozen affiliates in a European money laundering investigation of some $330 million. They so far have questioned banking officials and former central bank officials. Switzerland and Liechtenstein have also opened probes against Salameh for money laundering allegations.

Lebanon’s deeply-divided parliament is meanwhile in flux. It has continuously failed to agree on a new head of state since President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ended on Oct. 30. All but 18 of the Parliament’s 128 legislators showed up Thursday, with most — 71 lawmakers — voting either for parliamentarian Michel Moawad, an outspoken critic of Iran-backed Hezbollah, or casting blank ballots.

The worsening political paralysis has left the country without a president and only a caretaker government, stalling a host of economic reforms aimed at stopping wasteful spending and combating rampant corruption.

Lebanese authorities in April 2022 reached a tentative agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a recovery plan conditional on a host of economic reforms and anti-corruption measures. However, the international organization has been vocally critical of Lebanon’s sluggish efforts to meet these demands.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks continue to impose strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency since October 2019, tying up the savings of millions of people. As the economy continues to tank without any reforms, some depositors have resorted to storming bank branches and taking their trapped savings by force.

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