U.S. sanctions ‘Hezbollah-linked’ company

File - A model carries a placard with the mobile phone number bought by Lebanese Kamel Amhaz, right, during an auction in a hotel in Beirut, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/Ahmad Omar)

BEIRUT: The United States Thursday slapped sanctions on an electronic and cellular commercial company with alleged links to Hezbollah.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement that Stars Group Holding was supplying the Lebanese group with military equipment that was used in developing drones for use in Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington targeted a key Hezbollah procurement network by issuing sanctions against the business as well is its owners, brothers Kamel Mohammad Amhaz and Issam Mohammad Amhaz, and certain managers and individuals who supported their activities.

A spokesman for Stars Group Holding, which is based in Beirut and has subsidiaries in China and the UAE, denied that the company had any connection to the party, adding that this was not the first time it had faced such allegations.

“We are running a legitimate company and we are one of the biggest suppliers of mobile phones and communication equipment in Lebanon. We are going to follow up the case through our lawyers,” the spokesman told The Daily Star.

The Amhaz brothers were not available for comment.

In April 2013, The United States designated two Lebanese foreign exchange firms as significant money launderers, saying they moved money for drug traffickers and benefited Hezbollah’s militia.

The U.S. Treasury named Kassem Rmeiti & Co. For Exchange and Halawi Exchange Co. for sanctions that freeze any assets they have on U.S. soil and ban Americans and U.S. businesses from engaging in any transactions with them.

The State Department claimed Stars Group Holding had obtained dual-use material to enhance Hezbollah’s military capabilities.

“Stars Group Holding has covertly purchased sophisticated electronics and other technology from suppliers around the world, including a range of engines, communications, electronics and navigation equipment. These materials have directly supported Hezbollah’s development of unmanned aerial vehicles for its destructive military activities in Syria,” Psaki said.

Quoting senior U.S. officials, the Washington Post said the sanctions targeted a network of firms in Lebanon, the UAE and China that was run outside Beirut.

The company’s activities are in violation of U.S. exports law.

“Today’s designation illustrates yet again the extent of Hezbollah’s international presence and reach. We call on our partners to take action against Hezbollah’s illicit networks, which fuel its violent political agenda and enhance its ability to engage in destabilizing activities in Syria, throughout the Middle East more broadly, and around the world,” Psaki said.

In February 2013, the U.S. Treasury accused the now-defunct Lebanese-Canadian Bank of money laundering and providing funding to terrorist groups.

These charges prompted Riad Salameh, the governor of the Central Bank, to persuade the management of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank to sell their bank’s assets to another Lebanese lender.

The bank was eventually acquired by SGBL.

The Central Bank and the Association of Banks in Lebanon have often repeated that they will not provide protection to any bank or institution that deals with Hezbollah or any group labeled as a terrorist organization.

ABL said that the United Sates was pleased with the level of cooperation in the fields of anti-money laundering and combating terrorist funding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 11, 2014, on page 5.




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