Ana Maria Luca

US targets Hezbollah’s wallet

A new act of Congress may have significant repercussions on the Party's finances

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) (L) confers with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (2nd L) before a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing March 6, 2014 in Washington, DC

A new bill recently brought before the US Congress aims at curbing Hezbollah’s financial activities around the world. The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014 was introduced last week to the US Senate after a similar draft reached the House of Representatives in April.


Both drafts seek to impose sanctions on individuals or institutions that knowingly do business with Hezbollah, or companies or individuals who have been designated by the US as Hezbollah financiers. Central banks targeted by the act would be forbidden from conducting any financial activities in the US. The Congress has not yet discussed the bills, but they have already generated considerable support among politicians and Washington-based experts.


“This is a very opportune time to try to curb Hezbollah’s financial activities abroad,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Iran is not in good financial shape; the money from Tehran doesn’t come as it used to.” Although the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are still ongoing, a deal that would entirely waive the economic sanctions on Tehran is not really on the horizon, Levitt explained.

Other American think tanks also hailed the drafts. “This important bipartisan legislation is critical to disrupting Hezbollah's global networks and limiting its ability to finance terror attacks, spread its extremist message, and recruit new members," Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies said in a statement sent to NOW. “Hezbollah remains one of the most dangerous global terrorist organizations, operates as the long arm of Iranian terror, and is deeply involved in the slaughter of innocents in Syria.”


In 2009, the Department of the Treasury blacklisted the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) as a primary money laundering concern, alleging that it is part of a drug trafficking network that profited Hezbollah by moving approximately $200 million per month. Two years later, after the US law enforcement agencies filed a law suit against the LCB, several other companies in the United States, and two money exchange offices in Lebanon, the bank in Beirut was dismantled and its assets sold.

As far as the US lawmakers are concerned, Hezbollah hasn’t stopped organizing international attacks against Israeli civilians. The most recent alleged plot was uncovered over Easter in Thailand, where according to local media, French-Lebanese national Daoud Farhat and Filipino-Lebanese Youssef Ayad were arrested in Bangkok. Police were additionally searching for a third suspect, Bilal Bahsoun. Thai police were tipped by the Israeli intelligence that the two Lebanese were planning an attack against tourists coming from Israel. Ayad apparently confessed to the plans.

But what convinced the US lawmakers of Hezbollah’s continued plans to bomb targets abroad was the case of Housam Yaacoub, a Hezbollah agent tried in Cyprus last year. As mentioned in the bill, Yaacoub wrote a statement read aloud in court about how he had been hired by Hezbollah, how he dealt with his handler, and what his missions were – to transport packages across Europe and to survey Israeli tourists and their hangouts in Cyprus and Turkey.


Another important dimension, according to Levitt, was the European Union’s designation of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist entity. “This made people in the US wonder how to enforce [these designations] and how to follow up with their enforcement,” he told NOW. He also didn’t rule out Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict on the side of the Assad regime: “[The Syrian] conflict is threatening to thrust the region in turmoil. Of course, there is Al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, but Hezbollah also plays an important role in the conflict,” Levitt stressed.


Sources in the Lebanese banking system – who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons – told NOW that they expect the bill might have multiple repercussions on the Lebanese banks. However, though a number of officials are worried about the bill, it’s not clear what the consequences would be since it has yet to be discussed in Congress, the source said.


“Nobody wants to undermine the Lebanese banking system,” Levitt pointed out. “The bills are meant to curb Hezbollah’s use of the international financial system.” He also underscored that neither of the bills refer to the political activities of Hezbollah, but rather focus on money laundering activities, logistic operations, as well as weapons or drug trafficking activities that the US authorities linked to the Party.

Both Hezbollah and the Lebanese Central Bank have yet to officially respond to the matter.

Under discussion. (AFP Photo/Getty Images/Win McNamee

“Nobody wants to undermine the Lebanese banking system. The bills are meant to curb Hezbollah’s use of the international financial system.”

  • keti.raicheva

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    May 20, 2014