x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US sues companies accused of laundering money to finance Hizbollah

The suit is asking for Dh1.76 billion from Lebanese financial companies, including the Lebanese Canadian Bank. It also names 30 US-based car dealerships and a shipping firm said to be involved in the conspiracy.

BEIRUT // US prosecutors have filed a civil lawsuit against Lebanese and American businesses accused of participating in a money-laundering scheme to finance Hizbollah.

The case filed in a New York court on Thursday is the latest in a string of US actions targeting funding for the Lebanese Shiite movement. American officials reportedly believe that Hizbollah, which the US considers a terrorist group, has received financing from an intricate scheme involving criminal networks and drugs money.

The suit is asking for US$480 million (Dh1.76 billion) in penalties from Lebanese financial companies, including the Lebanese Canadian Bank, a defunct Beirut bank accused of being at the centre of the operation. It names 30 US-based car dealerships and a shipping firm that prosecutors believe were involved in the conspiracy, which allegedly involved more than $300m being wired from Lebanon to the US through the Lebanese Canadian Bank and Beirut-based money exchanges.

It has been alleged that the money was used to buy cars that were shipped to Africa for sale.

The proceeds were then channelled to Lebanon to fund Hizbollah. The scheme also allegedly involved drugs trafficking.

The US attorney, Preet Bharara, told the Associated Press that the lawsuit revealed "the deviously creative ways that terrorist organisations are funding themselves and moving their money".

The suit came after federal prosecutors on Tuesday indicted Ayman Joumaa, 47, a Lebanese businessman with alleged connections to Hizbollah and the Lebanese Canadian Bank, on money laundering and drugs trafficking charges.

There has been no reaction from Hizbollah.

But a senior party official denied any link to narcotics trafficking or to the Lebanese Canadian Bank in astory published in The New York Times this week.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press