Several Lebanese financial institutions with alleged ties to Hezbollah were part of a massive scheme that funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal proceeds through the United States, prosecutors here charged on Thursday.
A criminal complaint in New York federal court targeted the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanon-based houses, the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and Ellissa Holding, in the scheme to launder profits from narcotics dealing and other criminal activities.
"Funds were wired from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa. Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hezbollah controlled money laundering channels," the US Attorney's office said in a statement.
All of the financial institutions allegedly involved in the scheme are linked to Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese military-political group that Washington considers a terrorist organization.
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Federal authorities are seeking the assets of the three institutions, some 30 US car dealers and a US shipping company, the statement said. They are also seeking civil money laundering penalties totaling $483.1 million, which allegedly represents the total of money laundered.
"The intricate scheme laid out in today's complaint reveals the deviously creative ways that terrorist organizations are funding themselves and moving their money, and it puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said.
"Today, we are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents."
On Tuesday, US authorities announced the indictment of an alleged international drug dealer, Ayman Joumaa, who is alleged to have money laundering ties to the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and the Ellissa Exchange Company.
Joumaa is accused of using the money laundering scheme for funds made in importing cocaine from Mexico to the United States. He is alleged to have links to Hezbollah and the powerful Zeta Mexican drug cartel.