Net closing on Hezbollah’s Latin American TBML operations

The net appears to be closing on trade-based money laundering (TBML) operations allegedly perpetrated by Hezbollah, which the US authorities describe as a terrorist group.

The Shi’a Islamist group based in Lebanon allegedly operates a TBML scheme that involves the laundering of drug proceeds generated mainly in the US through sales in Africa of US sourced vehicles shipped via intermediaries in Latin America.

Tripartite approach

Hezbollah’s operations in the region are substantially based in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

But the election of new presidents in Argentina in 2015, Paraguay in April 2018 and most recently in Brazil in October 2018 appears to be creating a tougher environment for Hezbollah operations in the region. The three countries are taking joint actions to decriminalise the Tri-Border Area.

Central role

Paraguay is key to the success of international efforts, given that Hezbollah networks have centred their TBML schemes mostly in the Tri-Border Area’s Paraguayan sector.

Shortly after Paraguay’s new president, Mario Abdo Benítez, was sworn in last August, an arrest warrant was issued for Assad Ahmad Barakat, allegedly a Hezbollah financier sanctioned by Washington in 2004. He has now been detained in Brazil where he awaits the outcome of proceedings to extradite him to Paraguay.

Soon after, a second warrant was issued for Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad, another alleged Hezbollah financier on whom the US has imposed sanctions.

Argentina and Brazil

In July last year, Argentina’s Financial Intelligence Unit with US assistance initiated a freeze on the assets of 14 Lebanese nationals and Tri-Border Area residents whom it accused of using Argentina’s casinos to launder money and funnel it to Hezbollah.

New Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who was sworn in on New Year’s Day 2019, has promised a tough approach on transnational criminal organisations and pledged support for the military and police.

Categories: Trade Based Financial crimes News

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