Conflict between businesses and insurance companies concerning responsibility for damages from the 4 August Beirut port explosion has erupted into the open, pushing a major trade chamber to engage a complaint handling specialist to negotiate between the two sides.
At a press conference, Mr Mohammad Choucair, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Beirut and Mount Lebanon (CCIAB), said that local insurers were trying to escape their obligations in relation to losses caused by the disaster.
Given the situation, the CCIAB announced that it has called on an Italian company, e-Technical Consulting, specialising in complaint processing and negotiations.
Although invited to this conference, insurance companies, represented by the president of the Association of Insurance Companies in Lebanon (ACAL), Elie Torbey, did not attend, the event, a sign of unease between the two parties, reported L'Orient-Le Jour.
However, the association said in a media release instead that it "is in direct contact with several reinsurers" to cover the damage. Some insurers have nevertheless started to compensate for certain damages, a move which is most visible in auto insurance.
Based in Naples since 1980 and with offices established in several countries around the world, e-Technical Consulting has recently set up in Beirut, where it has a team of 12 people, helped by a team of four Lebanese lawyers.
Companies and individuals can contact e-Technical Consulting to help them free of charge in filing their case in order to recover claims from insurance companies. The insured can either negotiate alone with the insurers, or e-Technical Consulting can take care of the negotiations, charging a commission "2 to 3% depending on the insurance policy and the complexity of the problem", Mr Choucair told L'Orient-Le Jour.
Mr Mario Viscione, president of e-Technical Consulting, explaining the value which his company can contribute, said, “Insured persons (businesses and individuals) are lay people, unlike insurance companies. This is even more the case in Lebanon due to lack of experience. Our role is to guarantee their rights,” he told L'Orient-Le Jour.
He also underlined another problem that insureds will face in the event that insurance and reinsurance companies pay up: the latter will transfer money from abroad to Lebanon, where there are restrictions on foreign currency transactions. Insurance companies could pay out in Lebanese pounds, at the official rate of LBP1,507.5 to the dollar, or in "Lebanese dollars”, which customers can withdraw at the official exchange rate of 3,900 pounds, well below the black market rate which hovers around LBP7,500 to the dollar.
ACAL has estimated that insured losses from the devastating Beirut port explosion, at up to $3bn. Lebanese insurers are believed to have written most of the primary insurance coverage, while it is anticipated that European reinsurers would share a large part of the losses.