Lebanese pleads guilty to evading U.S. sanctions
WASHINGTON: A Lebanese businessman sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly being an important financial supporter of Hezbollah Thursday pleaded guilty to charges associated with evading U.S. sanctions imposed on him, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Kassim Tajideen, 63, pleaded guilty to conspiring with at least five other people to conduct more than $50 million in transactions with U.S. businesses in violation of the sanctions imposed on him, the department said in a statement.
If his plea agreement is approved by the U.S. District Court in Washington, Tajideen would serve five years in prison and pay a $50 million criminal forfeiture in advance of his sentencing, the department said.
“The Department of Justice has put a target on Hezbollah,” acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said in announcing the plea agreement. “We are going to keep targeting Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and their supporters, and we are going to keep winning.”
Tajideen was listed as a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S. Treasury in May 2009 because of his alleged financial assistance to Hezbollah, designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Under the Treasury designation, Tajideen was prohibited from being involved in or benefiting from transactions involving U.S. citizens or companies without a special license from the Treasury.
Tajideen, who ran a multibillion global business empire that traded commodities in the Middle East and Africa, was arrested on March 12, 2017, in Morocco on an international arrest warrant and extradited to the United States.
At the time, his family’s lawyer, Chibli Mallat, released a statement denying the charges against him.
“Charges in the United States, Morocco or elsewhere arising from allegations that Mr. Tajideen has a connection to terrorist activities are false,” the statement said.
“Since 2009, [Tajideen] and his counsel have been actively engaged in an OFAC delisting [procedure] to prove his innocence. In doing so, Mr. Tajideen agreed to an unprecedented, comprehensive forensic investigation of his personal and business dealings by a leading global accounting firm, which found no evidence to support OFAC’s designation,” the statement said.
Nonetheless, charges were brought alleging that Tajideen had attempted to evade U.S. sanctions.
Besides circumventing the sanctions to conduct $50 million in business with U.S. firms, Tajideen and his co-conspirators engaged in transactions outside the U.S. that resulted in the transmission of as much as $1 billion through the U.S. financial system, the department said.
While the charges were for evading sanctions, not for financing Hezbollah, the Justice Department said Tajideen’s case falls under the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Project Cassandra, which “targets Hezbollah’s global criminal support network ... that operates as a logistics, procurement and financing arm for Hezbollah.”–