US Charges Lebanese National With Ties to Hezbollah Financing

Posted December 14th, 2011 at 2:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. has indicted a Lebanese national with alleged ties to the Hezbollah militant group and Mexico's Zetas cartel on drug and money laundering charges.

U.S. federal prosecutors announced the indictment of Ayman Joumma on Tuesday in the state of Virginia. They say he played a key role in an international drug smuggling ring that shipped hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Colombian cocaine between 2005 and 2007. Authorities say the U.S. was often the intended final destination of the drugs.

Joumma is not in U.S. custody. He could face up to life in prison, if located and convicted.

In February, the U.S. Treasury Department identified Joumma as a drug kingpin linked to the Lebanese Canadian Bank.

U.S. authorities identified the bank and its subsidiaries as financial institutions of “primary money laundering concern.” Officials said the bank facilitated the money laundering activities of an international drug trafficking network.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that U.S. investigators say the bank is also a center for Hezbollah to move “huge sums of money.”

The United States lists Iran-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and officials in Washington say its recent rise to political power in Beirut will impact U.S. economic and military aid to Lebanon of nearly $250 million a year.

Hezbollah political representatives dominate the new Lebanese government formed earlier this year.

Four members of Hezbollah were indicted this year by a United Nations-backed tribunal in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, He and 22 others were killed in a bombing.

Hezbollah has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri's killing and has threatened to “cut off the hand” of anyone who tries to arrest its members in the case.