U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart have announced a new civil money-laundering and forfeiture lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the Lebanese Canadian Bank [LCB] and two exchange houses. The civil suit alleges that the Lebanese financial institutions helped Hizballah funnel hundreds of millions of dollar from drugs sales, primarily into used car schemes between America and West Africa. A judgment in the government's favor could lead to $483 million in penalties for the institutions and asset forfeitures in the United States.
The complaint alleges a complex, worldwide connection of Hizballah members and businesses. Hizballah functioned as a key importer of South American cocaine into West Africa, where it was later sent to Europe and the United States for sale. The profits were sent through wire transfers to people in the United States, primarily in Michigan and the East coast, to buy American cars for resale in West Africa. From West Africa, Hizballah activists sent the cash in bulk to Beirut, where it was deposited into Hizballah-friendly accounts.
The suit also targets more than 30 American car buyers involved in the trade. The move could be a huge blow to Hizballah, particularly after Iran cut its funding by 40% last year.
The case piggybacks on a recent indictment against Lebanese drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa, who also functioned as a Hizballah financier and worked with the Los Zetas Mexican cartel. The case alleges that Joumaa helped ship hundreds of tons of cocaine from Colombia to Central America, and used fees charged for laundering to fund Hizballah.