The DEA has revealed money laundering links between the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and Colombian mafia group the Oficina de Envigado. However, any assertions of a mass-scale narco-terrorism nexus should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has claimed that the Hezbollah's global drug trafficking network, known as the External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC), has "established business relationships with South American drug cartels, such as the Oficina de Envigado."
The assertion was made in a press release describing the arrest of various members of the BAC -- responsible for transnational criminal activities such as drug trafficking and the laundering of drug proceeds. The dirty money is reportedly used to buy weapons for use in the Hezbollah's activities in Syria.
SEE ALSO: Oficina de Envigado News and Profile
The Colombia-Hezbollah laundering system reportedly begins in Europe, from where millions of euros worth of profits from drug sales are transported to the Middle East, via an intricate network of money couriers. The funds are then sent back to drug traffickers in Colombia through Hawala -- an informal distribution system that uses brokers to transfer money and currency. A large amount of these proceeds reportedly transit through Lebanon, and a "significant percentage" remains in Hezbollah coffers.
These revelations come as part of an investigation into the Lebanese Canadian Bank.
"These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," DEA Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley said in the press release.
InSight Crime Analysis
Links between drug trafficking and terrorist organizations is a reality in Latin America. However, assertions of wider narco-terrorism conspiracies should be approached with caution.
The DEA has been criticized for inducing individuals to commit so-called narco-terrorist acts with the aim of "exposing" how drug trafficking directly funds terrorist activities.
These operations against narco-terrorism are arguably a convenient way for the DEA to tap into more government funding -- a large amount of which has been redirected from drug enforcement to terrorism following the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
In many situations, undercover DEA agents set up scenarios that could arguably be considered entrapment in order to catch culprits red-handed. These set-ups often constitute the only tangible evidence of "narco-terrorism" when it comes to prosecuting the case.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering
That said, there is significant evidence that Hezbollah has indeed collaborated with criminal groups in Latin America, although links to established drug trafficking organizations have not been so evident. The United States has previously blacklisted Venezuelan and Colombian nationals for laundering money for the terrorist groups, and in 2014, it was reported that Lebanese traffickers were helping the Brazilian prison gang the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital -PCC) to access weapons.
If the allegations of links with Colombia's Oficina de Envigado crime syndicate are true, this could be one of the more convincing arguments that the Lebanese terrorist group has active links with drug trafficking networks in Latin America.