Federal officials in the United States said on Monday that they had seized $150 million as part of a crackdown on a money laundering scheme linked to the Hizbullah terror group, CNN reported.
The seizure came following a complaint filed in December of last year alleging that the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank laundered money for Hizbullah-controlled groups around the world. The U.S. State Department has designated Hizbullah as a terrorist organization.
According to the CNN report, U.S. officials say that between 2007 and 2011, Lebanese Canadian Bank and other financial institutions routed at least $329 million in proceeds from drug sales and other criminal activity to the U.S., where this money bought used cars that were later sold in West Africa.
These proceeds were then funneled back to Lebanon via Hizbullah-controlled channels, the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a statement.
In September of last year, the majority of Lebanese Canadian Bank's assets were purchased by Société Générale de Banque au Liban, another Lebanese bank, the report said. At least $150 million from that sale is being held in escrow in an account at Lebanon's Banque Libano Française, so U.S. officials seized an equivalent amount of money from a U.S. correspondent account of Banque Libano Française.
“Money is the lifeblood of terrorist and narcotics organizations, and while banks which launder money for terrorists and narco-traffickers may be located abroad, today's announcement demonstrates that those banks and their assets are not beyond our reach,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was quoted by CNN as having said.
Neither Banque Libano Française nor Société Générale de Banque au Liban are accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
Last week, the United Kingdom's Standard Chartered Bank agreed to pay $340 million to settle allegations from New York's banking regulator that it conspired with Iran to duck U.S. sanctions by concealing transactions totaling $250 billion over nearly 10 years.
The United States recently imposed a new round of penalties against Syria that included Hizbullah, due to its providing support to President Bashar al-Assad's government.
The U.S. Treasury said that the Lebanese terror group, designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization in 1995, has been providing training and extensive logistical support to Syria's government.
Last week, Facebook pages created by Hizbullah’s Al-Manar television station were removed from the site.
The decision by the social networking website to halt activity connected with Hizbullah was made because the group appears on the State Department’s list of terror organizations.