US offering up to $10 million reward for three Hezbollah backers
American official says the focus is on the party and 'not on Shiite community' in Lebanon
The US administration is offering $10 million for information on three of Hezbollah's financiers to put pressure on the group's global network.
Officials said that Mohammed Bazzi, Adham Tabaja and Ali Charara are part of Hezbollah’s financial network and operate on four continents, running construction and infrastructure companies that give the Lebanese party a diverse stream of funds.
The reward is for information that leads to these three men, and a transnational paper trail that implicates companies funding Hezbollah.
“These are not the only financiers that we know,” said Marshall Billingslea, the US Treasury's assistant secretary on terror financing.
Mr Billingslea said the US was not intending to go after the Shiite community in Lebanon but was focused on Hezbollah.
Nathan Sales, US ambassador at large and co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, said it was crucial to protect the Lebanese financial system.
Mr Sales said that “any conversation about Hezbollah must begin in Tehran", and that US sanctions were hurting the group.
He said Hezbollah was applying lessons it learnt in Syria in sponsoring and training militants elsewhere in the region.
Mr Sales said that the party’s reach was wider than previously reported, going as far as Bulgaria, Cyprus and Peru.
“There is no such thing as a political wing of Hezbollah,” he said.
The US estimated that Hezbollah “earns almost $1 billion annually through direct financial support from Iran, international businesses and investments, donor networks, corruption and money laundering”.
The US "rewards for justice" statement identified Mr Tabaja as a Lebanese citizen born in 1967 in Kfar Tebnit.
The US called him “a Hezbollah member who maintains direct ties to senior Hezbollah organisational elements, including the terrorist group’s operational component, Islamic Jihad".
"Tabaja also holds properties in Lebanon on behalf of the group,” the statement said. “He is majority owner of the Lebanon-based real estate development and construction firm Al Inmaa Group for Tourism Works."
Al Inmaa and its subsidiaries were designated by the US in 2015 as supporting Hezbollah's terrorist activities. Saudi Arabia has also designated Mr Tabaja and his companies.
Mr Bazzi is identified as “a key Hezbollah financier who has provided millions of dollars” .
The statement said he owned or controlled Global Trading Group, Euro African Group, Africa Middle East Investment Holding, Premier Investment Group Offshore, and Car Escort Services Offshore.
The US designated Mr Bazzi and his affiliated companies in May 2018.
He officially holds Lebanese and Belgian passports but also has at least five others for countries including the UK, Sierra Leone and Gambia, the statement said.
Mr Charara is identified as “a key financier for Hezbollah, as well as chairman and general manager of Lebanon-based telecommunications company Spectrum Investment Group Holding".
The officials said Iraq was one area in which Hezbollah's financial activities have sprouted and where Mr Tabaja operates.
Updated: April 23, 2019 10:56 AM