US authorities on Monday announced the seizure of $150 million allegedly linked to a scheme by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to launder proceeds from drug trafficking and other crimes.
The money came from a US bank account used by the Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) to conduct US currency transactions, US Attorney Preet Bharara and US Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart said.
Washington considers the Shiite militant group a terrorist organization.
“As we alleged last year, the Lebanese Canadian Bank played a key role in facilitating money laundering for Hezbollah controlled organizations across the globe,” Leonhart said in a statement.
A December 2011 money laundering and forfeiture complaint filed in US federal court in New York targeted the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two other Lebanese financial institutions with alleged ties to Hezbollah.
US prosecutors then alleged that the LCB, the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and Ellissa Holding wired funds from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then sent 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 at the time.
At the time, Hezbollah refuted the charges, saying they were “another attempt to tarnish the image of the resistance in Lebanon.”
“Our relentless pursuit of global criminal networks showed that the US banking system was exploited to launder drug trafficking funds through West Africa and into Lebanon,” Leonhart said Monday.
“DEA and our partners are attacking these groups and their financial infrastructure, while establishing clear links between drug trafficking proceeds and terrorist funding,” she said.
Bharara said: “We will use every resource at our disposal to separate terrorists and narco-traffickers, and the banks that work with them, from their illicit funds, even those hidden in foreign accounts.”