France Refers 15 ‘Hezbollah’ Members to Criminal Court on Drug, Money-Laundering Charges

France Refers 15 ‘Hezbollah’ Members to Criminal Court on Drug, Money-Laundering Charges

Wednesday, 3 January, 2018 - 10:15
The French general prosecutor referred 15 'Hezbollah' members to the criminal court on drug and money-laundering charges. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The French general prosecutor ordered that a 15-member cell of Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” group be referred to the criminal court on charges of drug dealing, money-laundering and conspiracy.

The weekly Le Nouvel Observateur magazine said the cell cooperated with international drug and money-laundering networks, most notably a Colombian network known for its dealings in hard cocaine and heroin.

Ties with the Colombian network go back to 2016 when it was seeking a partner that could facilitate its European operations after it had fallen foul of authorities there.

French authorities, in cooperation with European and US agencies, managed in 2016 to arrest some members of the Lebanese cell after they had monitored their transfer of tens of millions to euros to Colombia. The members of the cell had also made frequent flights to France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to launder the drug money.

It resorted to various means to launder money, such as buying luxury cars and watches in Europe and later selling them in Lebanon and other countries. The watch purchases exceeded 14 million euros.

According to the magazine, Lebanese Mohammed Ammar, known as Alex, was in charge of the “Hezbollah” network. Detained operatives linked to the cell have been identified as Ali Z., Abd M., Mohammed Ali and Mohammed N.

Ammar was arrested in Miami in the US in October 2016 after authorities tracked his suspicious bank activity. His brother was arrested in Switzerland with 870,000 euros in cash in his possession. That same year, two people associated to Ammar’s wife were arrested in the Netherlands with two million euros in their possession.

One of the members of the cell was arrested in mid 2016 at Abidjan airport while he was planning on transferring 1.7 million euros from the drug trade in Africa to “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.

The French magazine cited reports that confirmed that the Iranian-backed “Hezbollah” had made, along with South American gangs, 500 million dollars annually from smuggling drugs.

Several European countries had previously arrested various drug smuggling networks affiliated to “Hezbollah”.

In 2009, Dutch authorities detained 17 members of an international drug network linked to the party. It was involved in the smuggling of 2,000 kilograms of cocaine in a single year.

In 2011, German authorities arrested two people for smuggling large sums of drug money in Europe and transferring them to an individual who is associated with “Hezbollah.” Investigations revealed that they had received special training at “Hezbollah” military bases in Lebanon.

The US and Ecuador busted drug networks linked to the party. Colombian drug dealer Walid Maqlad had stated during a television recording that “Hezbollah” members trained in Venezuela with other paramilitary groups on how to produce and deal drugs.

A prominent member of the US Congress had declared at the end of 2012 that drug production and trade represents 30 percent of “Hezbollah’s” revenue.

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