Endangered US-Lebanon Relations May Spill over to West Africa

Relations between the US and Lebanon continues to worsen every day and West Africa runs the risk of incurring the wrath of the American Government. Lebanon grapples with a United States law suit owing to money-laundering schemes she has allegedly involved through illicit financial flows.

The US alleged that some West African countries have been used as a transit points for the illegal cash to be taken back to Lebanon to fund global terrorism.

Some West African countries have been named in the deal and more names will come out shortly.

United States strongly believes that several West African nations remain Hizballah-controlled territories.

The US has made it clear that West African nations have participated in the illicit financial flows through illegal business schemes that nurture money-laundering.

The US Government maintains that West African Used Car Trade and Smuggling of cash to Lebanon in January, 2007 to early 2011 runs into at least $329M which was allegedly transferred by wire from LCB, the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company, the Ellissa Exchange Company and other Lebanese financial institutions including Middle East and Africa Bank, the Federal Bank of Lebanon and BLOM Bank to the United States for the purchase and shipment of used cars.

She further claims that the car buyers in the US typically had little or no property or assets other than bank accounts used to receive the overseas wire transfers.

“The cars were shipped to Cotonou, Benin where they were housed and sold from large car parks including one owned by the Ellissa Group, a subsidiary of the Ellissa Group,” the US alleged.

The allegation also holds that a significant portion of the cash proceeds from the car sales was transported to Lebanon by Hizballah-controlled systems of money couriers, cash smugglers and currency brokers.

“A network of money couriers controlled by Oussama Salhab, an alleged Hizballah operative living in Togo allegedly transported tens of millions of dollars and Euros from Benin to Lebanon through Togo and Ghana,” the allegation continues.

It is further alleged that Salhab and his relatives also own and control Cybamar Swiss, GHMB, a transportation company based in US state of Michigan that was frequently used to ship cars to West Africa as well as other entities involved in the scheme.

Cash transported from West Africa, US official says, was often received at the Beirut Airport where Hizballah security agents safeguarded its passage to its final destination.

The lawsuit was filed by Manhattan US Attorney who is seeking forfeiture of more than USD480M from Lebanese financial institutions.

The Manhattan Attorney wants the US to embark on asset freeze of Lebanese financial institutions along with the assets of approximately 30 US car buyers and a US shipping company.

The Attorney also maintains that Hizballah a prominent Lebanese terrorist organisation formed in approximately, 1982 is responsible for some of the “deadliest terrorist attacks” against the United States in history.

To buttress his claim in the courtroom, the US legal practitioner cited specific instances in history in which the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and the Ellissa Exchange Company were tagged in January 2011 as significant foreign narcotics dealers under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act related to their roles in the money-laundering activities of Ayman Jouma, a Lebanese narcotics trafficker linked to Hizballah.

In November, 2011, he went on, Jouma was indicted in the eastern district of Virginia on charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and conspiracy to commit money laundering related to drug trafficking by Mexican and Columbian drug cartels.

On February, 2011, US Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) identified LCB as a financial institution of primary money-laundering concern.

Consequently, US financial institutions ended their relationships with LCB precluding the financial institution from from sending money to the US.

The finding was based on FinCEN’s determination that LCB was used by drug traffickers and money launderers around the world including at least one narco-trafficker who provided support to Hizballah.

Complainant claims that the illicit financial flows embarked upon by Lebanon constitute violations of International Emergency Economic Powers Act alongside US Executive Orders and Treasury Regulations.

“The intricate scheme laid out in today’s complaint reveals the deviously creative ways terrorist organisations fund themselves and move their money. It puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism,” Manhattan US Attorney alleged.

The Manhattan Attorney’s claim was further strengthened by DEA Administrator Michele Loenhart who said “DEA and its partners have exposed the Lebanese-Canadian Bank as a major money-laundering source for Hizballah.”

The connection between drug traffickers and terror networks, he went on, was evident noting that by attacking the financial networks of those who wish to harm innocent Americans DEA is strengthening national security and making citizens safer.

At the heart of the allegation was the financing of Hizballah, a group that is part of terrorist networks ready to unleash horror in the world.

It is clear that the US is a key target for the attacks considering US’s strategic status in global politics, and her move to export and consolidate democracy, human rights culture and the rule of law in nations where these principles are non-existent.

America directly accused Lebanon to have illegally secretly moved the sum of $300 into the US for the purchase and shipment of used cars to West Africa as part of a money laundering scheme.

Proceeds, the US alleged, from car sales and narcotics were taken back to Lebanon through “Hizballah-controlled money channels.”

Documents Seen by Nightwatch also alleged that substantial portions of the cash were paid to Hizballah which the US Department of State designated as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997.

The Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanese financial institutions-the Hassan Ayash Exchange and Ellissa Holding and their related subsidiaries and affiliates have been named as the main institutions from which Hizballah derives its sponsorship.

LCB the document says, permitted Hizballah-related entities to conduct massive cash transactions, in some case as much as $260,000 and 200, 000,000 Lebanese pounds per day without disclosing the source and purpose of the money.

It says Hassan Ayash was LCB’s main source of US currency, and LCB allowed Ellissa companies to conduct “large cash transactions” through the bank without sufficient oversight or disclosures about the sources and purpose of the cash.

See more in next editions

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