BEIRUT: Federal prosecutors in the United States have reportedly cleared renowned Lebanese businessman Merhi Abou Merhi of charges of helping Hezbollah and links to a Columbian drug-trafficking network.
The state-run National News Agency reported Monday that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a statement describing its “prolonged and extensive” investigation into Abou Merhi, his family and his business interests.
The statement, as quoted in Arabic by the NNA, dismissed the charges as “null in all forms.”
It added that the prosecutors were closing the file and would notify the U.S. Treasury Department of their findings.
The attorney’s office said it “will not bring criminal or civil charges against Mr. Merhi Abou Merhi, his family or his companies because it has not found any illegal acts by him or his companies,” according to the Arabic report.
The Daily Star was unable to verify the report. A representative of Abou Merhi declined to share the prosecution’s statement.
Abou Merhi was blacklisted by U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in October along with three other Lebanese, two Germans and 11 companies for facilitating the activities and having ties to a maritime network tied to the “Joumaa Criminal Organization,” which has links with Hezbollah.
Monday’s report would not necessarily have any bearing on Merhi’s OFAC listing.
When the listing was announced, the Treasury claimed that the Lebanese and German individuals provided support for narcotics trafficking and money laundering activities conducted by Lebanese-Colombian drug trafficker and money launderer Ayman Saied Joumaa, key Joumaa associate Hassan Ayash, and the Joumaa criminal organization.
It said “any assets these designated entities and individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”
Abou Merhi Group has multiple subsidiaries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe including the following 10 designated companies: Abou-Merhi Lines SAL, a shipping line in Lebanon; Abou-Merhi Cruises (AMC) SAL, a travel agency in Lebanon; Le Mall Sidon, a shopping mall in south Lebanon; Queen Stations, a gas station in Lebanon; Orient Queen Homes, a real estate development in Lebanon; maritime shipping subsidiaries in Benin (Abou Merhi Cotonou), Nigeria (Abou Merhi Nigeria), and Germany (Abou Merhi Hamburg); Lebanon Center, a shopping mall in Jordan; and Abou Merhi Charity Institution in Lebanon.
The other Lebanese and German nationals on the list were designated for their management roles in Merhi’s various companies.
On Jan. 26, 2011, OFAC designated the Joumaa drug trafficking and money laundering organization as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker pursuant to the Kingpin Act. On Nov. 3, 2011, Ayman Joumaa was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for coordinating the shipment of over 85,000 kilograms of cocaine and laundering in excess of $250 million in narcotics proceeds. Joumaa remains a fugitive.