NEW YORK // US authorities have seized US$150 million (Dh551m) allegedly linked to a scheme by Hizbollah to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking and other crimes.
The money came from an American bank account used by the Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) to conduct US currency transactions, said Preet Bharara, the US district attorney, and Michele Leonhart, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief.
Washington considers the Shiite militant group a terrorist organisation and accuses Syria and Iran of providing its weaponry.
Monday's seizure concerns a money-laundering and forfeiture complaint filed at the US federal court in New York in December 2011 that targeted the bank and two other Lebanese financial institutions with alleged ties to Hizbollah.
"As we alleged last year, the Lebanese Canadian Bank played a key role in facilitating money laundering for Hizbollah controlled organisations across the globe," said Ms Leonhart.
US prosecutors then alleged that the LCB, the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and the Ellissa Holding Company wired funds from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then sent to West Africa.
"Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funnelled to Lebanon through Hizbollah- controlled money-laundering channels," the US Attorney's office said at the time.
Hizbollah refuted the charges, saying they were "another attempt to tarnish the image of the resistance in Lebanon", but US prosecutors said there was no doubt about the institutions' ties to the militant outfit.
"Our relentless pursuit of global criminal networks showed that the US banking system was exploited to launder drug trafficking funds through West Africa and into Lebanon," Ms Leonhart said on Monday. "DEA and our partners are attacking these groups and their financial infrastructure, while establishing clear links between drug trafficking proceeds and terrorist funding."
Mr Bharara said: "Money is the lifeblood of terrorist and narcotics organisations, 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.
"We will use every resource at our disposal to separate terrorists and narco-traffickers, and the banks that work with them, from their illicit funds, even those hidden in foreign accounts."