US Treasury Points to Hezbollah Presence in LatAm

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The US Treasury Department has blacklisted four Venezuelan and Lebanese men under the Kingpin Act for supporting an international drug trafficking and money laundering network linked to Hezbollah, revealing some of the group’s activities in the Americas.

One of the designees, Abbas Hussein Harb, a Venezuelan and Lebanese dual citizen, runs a Colombia and Venezuela-based organization that has laundered millions of dollars for Lebanese drug lord and previous Kingpin Act designee, the Lebanese drug lord Ayman Joumaa, who was indicted by a US court in late 2011. Another designee reportedly used his position as a bank branch manager in Lebanon to help move money for Harb and Joumaa. Harb’s and Saleh’s brothers were both also designated under the Kingpin act.

Ali Mohamed Saleh, a Lebanese Colombian national and former Hezbollah fighter who was designated under the Kingpin Act in December 2011, is accused of leading a cell to raise money for Hezbollah in Maicao, Colombia. He was designated under the Treasury’s anti-terror authority, Executive Order 13224. Saleh, according to a Treasury press release, solicited donations for the group and coordinated cash and check transfers using couriers who traveled to Lebanon through Venezuela. He was previously blacklisted for laundering money for a criminal group linked to the drug lord Ayman Joumaa.

A Treasury official told InSight Crime the terrorism designation for Saleh changes his legal status and puts him on terrorist watchlists, in addition to the secondary effect of publicizing his status as a supporter of terrorism. The Kingpin designation blocks US citizens and businesses from working with the four men and freezes any US assets they own.

The department also sanctioned three businesses owned by Harb and Saleh, two of them in Colombia and one in Venezuela.

InSight Crime Analysis

The designation follows a report by an Italian newspaper alleging that Iran and Hezbollah were plotting a terror attack in Latin America, which seemingly has not come to fruition, despite some voices who insist on Hezbollah’s terrorist ambitions in the region.

These latest Kingpin Act designations highlight Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America, but the threat that the militant group presents to the region should not be overhyped. Hezbollah does receive a substantial amount of money in the form of remittances from South America, especially Paraguay’s tri-border area shared with Brazil and Argentina, a hub for all varieties of smuggling and counterfeiting. The tri-border area has a large Lebanese population, some elements of which are thought to provide financial support to the group. But there is little evidence that Hezbollah is actively involved in directing criminal enterprises in the region.

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