How drugs and di­a­monds fu­elled Hezbol­lah’s net­work

The National - News - - NEWS -

The GCC and United States have Hezbol­lah’s se­nior lead­er­ship in the crosshairs with new sanc­tions against the Le­banese group’s top of­fi­cials.

“By tar­get­ing Hezbol­lah’s Shura Coun­cil, our na­tions col­lec­tively re­jected the false dis­tinc­tion be­tween a so­called ‘po­lit­i­cal wing’ and Hezbol­lah’s global ter­ror­ist plot­ting,” US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin said on Wed­nes­day.

The sanc­tions tar­get Hezbol­lah leader Has­san Nas­ral­lah, his deputy Naim Qassem and four oth­ers.

The US Trea­sury pre­vi­ously sanc­tioned Mr Nas­ral­lah for dis­rupt­ing the Mid­dle East peace process in 1995, and in 2012 over the group’s in­volve­ment in Syria.

Past in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Hezbol­lah fi­nanc­ing have had far-reach­ing con­se­quences. In the case of the now-de­funct Le­banese Cana­dian Bank, the once one of Beirut’s ma­jor fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions folded and later for­feited US$102 mil­lion (Dh375m) in as­sets af­ter it was black­listed by US au­thor­i­ties for its part in what the lat­ter said was a vast Hezbol­lah money-laun­der­ing net­work.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion of­fered a rare glimpse into a se­cre­tive net­work link­ing Colom­bian co­caine car­tels, West African con­flict di­a­monds and North Amer­i­can used­car deal­ers, through which Hezbol­lah-linked Le­banese busi­ness­men worked around sanc­tions to bring as­sets from un­der­world sources into global fi­nan­cial sys­tems.

In the past, Hezbol­lah was be­lieved to have re­ceived up to $200m a year from Iran, but that amount di­min­ished as Iran’s econ­omy strug­gled un­der sanc­tions aimed at its nu­clear pro­gramme. The mil­i­tant group – which also main­tains ex­pen­sive so­cial ser­vices – needed to di­ver­sify its fund­ing sources.

A 2010 US Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that Le­banese Cana­dian Bank (LCB) ac­count hold­ers were re­ceiv­ing the prof­its from smug­gling South Amer­i­can co­caine to Europe. Ex­pa­tri­ate Le­banese busi­ness­men were then chan­nelling those prof­its into other busi­nesses, in­clud­ing buy­ing used cars in North Amer­ica to sell in West Africa and the pur­chase of rough di­a­monds.

Af­ter an­other Le­banese bank, So­ci­ete Gen­erale de Banque au Liban, agreed to buy LCB’s as­sets in 2011, an au­dit un­cov­ered up to 200 ac­counts in­volved in the money-laun­der­ing scheme, at the cen­tre of which was Hezbol­lah.

In Au­gust 2012, the US seized $150m of the bank’s as­sets, with the bank later agree­ing to a $102m set­tle­ment. While the case put busi­nesses on no­tice that they dealt with Hezbol­lah at their own risk, some have ques­tioned the ef­fi­cacy of sanc­tions.

While there has been no of­fi­cial re­ac­tion by Hezbol­lah or Iran, an ed­i­to­rial in the pro-Hezbol­lah Al Akhbar news­pa­per on Thurs­day ar­gued that the new sanc­tions were a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated re­sponse to Hezbol­lah’s strong show­ing in Le­banon’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

“The sanc­tions im­posed on the Hezbol­lah lead­er­ship will not af­fect their lives or their work, for the party op­er­ates out­side the Le­banese and in­ter­na­tional bank­ing sys­tem,” it said. “There­fore, the ef­fect of these sanc­tions is po­lit­i­cal and noth­ing more and the tar­get is not Hezbol­lah, but its part­ners in the next gov­ern­ment.”

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