Several Lebanese financial institutions with alleged ties to the Hizbullah terror organization were part of a massive scheme that funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal proceeds through the United States, prosecutors charged on Thursday.
AFP reported that a criminal complaint in a New York federal court targeted the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanon-based houses, the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and Ellissa Holding, in the scheme to launder profits from narcotics dealing and other criminal activities.
The U.S. Attorney’s office is alleging that “funds were wired from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa,” according to a statement quoted by AFP.
“Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hizbullah-controlled money laundering channels,” said the statement.
AFP noted that all of the financial institutions allegedly involved in the scheme are linked to Hizbullah, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.
The statement added that federal authorities are seeking the assets of the three institutions, some 30 U.S. car dealers and a U.S. shipping company. They are also seeking civil money laundering penalties totaling $483.1 million, which allegedly represents the total of money laundered.
Attorney Preet Bharara told AFP that the scheme “reveals the deviously creative ways that terrorist organizations are funding themselves and moving their money, and it puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism.”
Bharara added, “Today, we are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents.”
Thursday’s complaint comes after earlier in the week, U.S. authorities indicted a Lebanese national allegedly tied to Hizbullah on drug and money laundering charges.
The indictment against 47-year-old Ayman Joumaa, who is currently at large, alleges he led a conspiracy that, among other activities, sold nearly 100 tons of Colombian cocaine to the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico between 2005 and 2007 that was ultimately smuggled into the United States.
Earlier this year, the Treasury Department designated Joumaa as a drug trafficker and said Hizbullah profited from his network.