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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

US stresses Lebanon must cut Hizbollah from financial system

Washington has begun a new push to disrupt the militant group’s global financing routes

The US government has expressed concern at the involvement of Hezbollah in Lebanon's financial sector. AFP
The US government has expressed concern at the involvement of Hezbollah in Lebanon's financial sector. AFP

Lebanon must cut Iran-backed Hizbollah from the financial sector, a US official on combating illicit finance said on Tuesday, two weeks after Washington began a new push to disrupt the militant group’s global financing routes.

On a two-day visit to Lebanon, the US Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing Marshall Billingslea “urged Lebanon to take every possible measure to ensure [Hizbollah] is not part of the financial sector”.

Mr Billingslea also “stressed the importance of countering Iranian malign activity in Lebanon”, a statement from the US embassy in Lebanon said.

The Iran-backed, Shiite Hizbollah is classified as a terrorist group by Washington, but sits in Lebanon’s delicate national unity government.

US officials say Hizbollah is funded not just by Iran but by global networks of people, businesses and money laundering operations.

The US Hizbollah International Financing Prevention Acts of 2015 and 2017 aimed to sever the group’s funding routes and a number of people linked to Hizbollah are on sanctions lists.

The US has had to balance its targeting of Hizbollah funding routes with the need to maintain Lebanon’s stability. Lebanese banking and political authorities have lobbied Washington to make sure its anti-Hizbollah measures do not destroy the banking system underpinning the economy.

In his meetings with president Michel Aoun, prime minister Saad Al Hariri and other banking and political figures, Mr Billingslea said the US government was committed to work with Lebanon to protect its financial system and support a “strong, stable, and prosperous Lebanon”.

He also said Washington would help Lebanon protect its financial system from ISIL and other militants.

Two weeks ago, the Trump administration set up a team to reinvigorate US investigations into Hizbollah-linked drug trafficking.

Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week denied any involvement in drug trafficking and said the group had a very clear religious and moral stance that forbids drugs and drug trading.