Le­banese busi­ness­man charged with evad­ing U.S. ter­ror­ism sanc­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY SPENCER S. HSU spencer.hsu@wash­post.com

A Beirut busi­ness­man ac­cused of pre­sid­ing over a multi­bil­lion­dol­lar com­modi­ties ship­ping em­pire and evad­ing U.S. sanc­tions for fi­nanc­ing ter­ror­ism pleaded not guilty to an 11-count crim­i­nal in­dict­ment un­sealed in Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day.

Kas­sim Ta­jideen, 62, a dual Le­banese-Bel­gian ci­ti­zen, was charged March 7 with con­spir­acy, fraud and money laun­der­ing. He al­legedly op­er­ated a net­work of com­pa­nies from Africa to the Mid­dle East that dealt in se­cret with U.S. busi­nesses after send­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to the Shi­ite mil­i­tant group and po­lit­i­cal party Hezbol­lah.

The pros­e­cu­tion of Ta­jideen, who was ex­tra­dited to the United States after his ar­rest March 12 in Morocco, marked the lat­est move in a long-run­ning U.S. ef­fort to ramp up fi­nan­cial pres­sure against Iran-sup­ported Hezbol­lah. The group’s mil­i­tant wing has been a U.S.-des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion since 1997 and is now fight­ing in sup­port of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s regime in that coun­try’s civil war.

Ta­jideen and his broth­ers, Ali and Husayn, lead a fam­ily busi­ness that has dom­i­nated poul­try and rice mar­kets, amassed real es­tate, and is re­port­edly ac­tive in con­struc­tion and di­a­monds in Le­banon, the United Arab Emi­rates and west­ern Africa, where Ta­jideen set­tled in Sierra Leone with his fam­ily in 1976. The three broth­ers were added to the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s ter­ror­ism sanc­tions list in 2009 and 2010 for their prom­i­nent sup­port of Hezbol­lah.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this case and the ar­rest and ex­tra­di­tion of this de­fen­dant demon­strates our com­mit­ment to en­forc­ing vi­tally im­por­tant sanc­tions laws that are in place to pro­tect our na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy in­ter­ests,” Chan­ning D. Phillips, U.S. at­tor­ney for the Dis­trict of Columbia, said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the ar­rest. “Be­cause of the hard work of law en­force­ment here and abroad, Kas­sim Ta­jideen will now face charges in an Amer­i­can court­room.”

Ta­jideen ap­peared re­laxed in court Fri­day. He was de­tained at Casablanca’s air­port while en route from Guinea’s cap­i­tal, Con­akry, to Beirut, on an ar­rest war­rant is­sued two days ear­lier by In­ter­pol’s Wash­ing­ton of­fice, the Reuters news agency re­ported.

“He pleads not guilty,” de­fense at­tor­ney Matt Jones of the WilmerHale law firm told U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Robin M. Meri­weather dur­ing a brief ar­raign­ment. Meri­weather or­dered Ta­jideen held pend­ing a de­ten­tion hear­ing March 29 and no­ti­fi­ca­tion of the Bel­gian and Le­banese con­sulates.

On Fri­day, U.S. of­fi­cials said Ta­jideen’s ar­rest capped “Project Cas­san­dra,” a two-year Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion-led and U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion-aided in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Hezbol­lah’s global lo­gis­tics and fi­nanc­ing arm.

Ac­cord­ing to a 27-page in­dict­ment, Ta­jideen al­legedly se­cretly re­struc­tured his multi­bil­lion­dol­lar busi­ness after his May 2009 ter­ror­ist des­ig­na­tion by the U.S. Trea­sury banned him from deal­ings with U.S. busi­nesses.

U.S. author­i­ties al­leged that Ta­jideen and con­spir­a­tors used new busi­ness names and mis­rep­re­sented own­er­ship to com­plete at least 47 fraud­u­lent wire trans­fers to­tal­ing more than $27 mil­lion to un­wit­ting U.S. ven­dors for il­le­gal, un­li­censed goods.

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