When Houthi militias entered the Yemeni capital two years ago, the central bank of Yemen had at least $4.6 billion in hard currency, in addition to gold reserves and other foreign currencies. Today, only a tiny portion of that remains and it is not sufficient to run the state and pay the salaries of staff. We do not understand why the legitimate government that left the capital Sana’a after the coup did nothing to establish a substitute for the central bank in the provisional capital Aden, and consider the processes that take place in Sana’a as illegal because two rebel groups (the Houthis and those loyal to the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh) govern the bank and the capital Sana’a.
A reasonable explanation for the legitimate government leaving the central bank as it was and not disputing the rebels’ administration of it after the government moved to Aden is that it wanted to avoid exposing government employees to harm and it did not want to close down the service sectors. Nevertheless, most of these sectors have actually closed down. Now that the bank is empty, the government in Aden has announced the establishment of another central bank to replace the old one.
Today, Yemen suffers from the horrors created by the war that erupted after the Houthis and Saleh took the country by military force and brought the legitimate government down. The situation is getting worse after the Houthis and Saleh looted more than $4 billion in the name of “supporting the war effort”; funding fighters in their ranks and moving lots of wealth to the houses of rebel leaders. Amongst the money that was looted, one billion dollars had been transferred by Saudi to the central bank two years before the coup in order to stabilise the Yemeni riyal during the disorder of the Yemeni revolution.
The rebel government requested that the international community support it by giving it $5 billion to stop the financial and economic collapse. However, not a single country has responded yet because western countries know what happened to the money in the central bank.
As for Iran, the main country accused of sponsoring and supporting the coup, it will also not provide assistance to the rebel government as it usually only sends weapons, experts and trainers and provides financial assistance only to its direct militias. It does this with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it will not assist millions of Yemenis registered as employees in different sectors or pay for education and health. Indeed, it will not compensate the bankrupt rebels’ bank with a single dollar.
When the alternative central bank opens in Aden, it will be responsible for liberated areas only, and it will not be able to fulfil the obligations of the government in areas that are under the control of the Houthis and Saleh. Other centres may also be moved, such as Yemeni embassies abroad, some of which are still the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sana’a.
The fact that the central bank in Sana’a is bankrupt does not mean that the Houthi-Saleh government is hungry because it still possesses the money that it stole from the bank. In addition to this, the ousted president Saleh is one of the richest people in the region, and the money that he has in his secret bank accounts abroad is enough to fund Yemen for five consecutive years. He did not steal this money to donate it. Most of the known bank accounts that are registered under his name have been frozen by the UN Security Council, and the legitimate government will most likely request the right to confiscate them later.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.