x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hizbollah accused of being funded by drug traffickers

Hizbollah has been accused of receiving financing through a money-laundering scheme linked to drug trafficking and an international criminal network.

BEIRUT // US officials have allegedly accused Lebanon's Hizbollah of receiving financing through a money-laundering scheme linked to drug trafficking and an international criminal network.

The Shiite movement did not comment yesterday on the claims outlined in a investigation by The New York Times.

The story said the group received funds via a Beirut-based bank used to launder drug money.

The newspaper said the movement, which the US considers a terrorist organisation, was not only increasingly reliant on financing from criminal activities, including through the Lebanese Canadian Bank at the centre of scheme, but that some Hizbollah members were also involved in the narcotics trade.

A senior Hizbollah official was quoted in the article denying any ties to drug trafficking or links with the Lebanese Canadian Bank.

The bank was at the centre of money-laundering accusations this year by the US treasury department, prompting its merger with a Lebanese affiliate of the French Societe Generale bank following US pressure and in a bid to shield the Lebanese banking sector.

The Lebanese Canadian Bank's records cited by the New York Times were opened during the course of the sale.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese writer known for her work on Hizbollah, described the allegations about financing from the South American drugs trade as "far-fetched".

"Hizbollah doesn't need to use drug money when it has other avenues for funding," she said. "[The allegations] appear to be politicised and as part of an international legal campaign against Hizbollah ... especially as it's an Islamic organisation it would be a huge contradiction."

The allegations came to light as a Lebanese man with alleged ties to the Lebanese Canadian Bank and Hizbollah was indicted on Tuesday by US federal prosecutors on charges of money laundering and drug trafficking.

US authorities believe Ayman Joumaa, 47, has obtained more than $850 million (Dh3.12 billion) from criminal activities since 2004, including the sale of Colombian cocaine trafficked into the US.

The New York Times said Mr Joumaa, the owner of a Beirut hotel, has ties to Mexican drugs cartels, including the notorious Los Zetas gang.

"Money fuels the drug trade and Mr Joumaa is alleged to be at the centre of it all - working with those producing the vast majority of the world's cocaine to get their drugs safely into the hands of Mexican cartels," said Neil MacBride, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office is prosecuting the case. "Organised crime networks know no borders, and neither can US law enforcement."

In February, the US treasury department accused the Lebanese Canadian Bank of involvement in money laundering and said some bank employees had connections to Hizbollah. The department has also accused Mr Joumaa of being at the centre of the scheme.

But his criminal indictment made no direct link between him and Hizbollah.

Mr Joumaa has yet to be arrested and is believed to be in Lebanon, a country which does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

 

zconstantine@thenational.ae