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U.S. names Lebanese in ‘Hezbollah drug ring’

Supporters of Hezbollah watch a televised speech by Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah on the occasion of Liberation and Resistance Day in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, Friday, May 25, 2012. (The Daily Star Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: The U.S. Treasury Department named five Lebanese citizens as drug kingpins and terrorists Wednesday for allegedly working as part of a South American money laundering and drug trafficking network with links to Hezbollah, claiming one of the individuals operated a Hezbollah cell in Colombia.

Ali Mohamad Saleh, a Lebanese and Colombian citizen, was designated as a “global terrorist” for allegedly coordinating Hezbollah activity in Colombia and South America, according to a release from the U.S. Treasury. Abbas Hussein Harb, Ibrahim Chibli, Ali Hussein Harb and Kassem Mohamad Saleh were named drug kingpins for laundering millions of dollars of drug related proceeds through Lebanon.

The announcements are part of recent efforts by the U.S. Treasury and Justice Department to increase pressure on drug trafficking organizations and Hezbollah through judicial case-building that could lead to prosecution.

The targeted judicial designations will freeze the U.S. assets of the people alleged to be in the network, aiming to make it harder for them to do business around the world. The U.S. is one of a handful of countries in the world that considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

“This is about protecting the U.S. and international financial system from illicit activity and terrorist financing,” a Treasury spokesman told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

“It also publicly exposes these individuals for their support of drug trafficking or terrorism, and makes it much more difficult for them to continue their business without the cover of anonymity,” the spokesman said.

In January 2012, Ayman Joumaa was designated as a drug kingpin for drug trafficking in South America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and laundering as much as $200 million every month through cash smuggling and Lebanese businesses. Joumaa allegedly shipped around 85,000 kilos of cocaine into the U.S. and had laundered money from the Zeta cartel through the Lebanese Canadian Bank. He is also accused of financing Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah strongly denied that his organization was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering from South America when the allegations against Joumaa first emerged months ago.

The Treasury Department claims Saleh raised funds for Hezbollah in Maicao, Colombia, as the leader of a support cell.

“Saleh is a key Hezbollah facilitator who has directed and coordinated Hezbollah activity in Colombia. He is a former Hezbollah fighter with knowledge of Hezbollah operation plans due to his contact with Hezbollah authorities in Lebanon,” according to the release from the Treasury Department.

The release also claims that Abbas Hussein Harb, a dual Venezuelan citizen, used organizations in Colombia and Venezuela to move millions of narcotics dollars for Joumaa’s organization, adding that Chibli helped launder the money through Fenicia Bank in Abbassieh, south Lebanon, where he was a manager.

Harb’s organizations are said to include import businesses in Venezuela and Colombia and another business in Colombia. Ali Hussein Harb, the brother of Abbas, and Kassem Mohamad Saleh, the brother of Ali Mohamad Saleh, were also designated as kingpins for their work in the network.

The Treasury Department has designated more than 1,100 people as kingpins. The 1999 act freezes and allows the government to seize all property and assets of the individual that are under U.S. authority.

Penalties for violations if captured and found guilty include up to 10 years in jail and fines.

Being designated as a “global terrorist” by the U.S. freezes a person’s assets and prohibits dealings with them.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 28, 2012, on page 3.

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