Thursday, January 23, 2014

23-Jan-14: Hezbollah's terrorism and the Australian connection

Self-proclaimed Hezbollah supporters in Sydney
[Image Source]
Some major achievements of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) are all over the Australian media this morning as it claims "a major victory in its fight against organised crime". A covert ACC taskforce announced today it had
cracked a major global money-laundering ring with operatives in more than 20 countries and funds syphoned off to groups reported to include Hezbollah. The Australian Crime Commission said more than A$580 million (US$512 million) of drugs and assets had been seized, including A$26 million in cash, in a year-long sting codenamed Eligo targeting the offshore laundering of funds generated by outlaw motorcycle gangs, people-smugglers and others. [AFP today]
The terrorism connection comes from that Hezbollah "militant group" angle. As one Australian newspaper says:
It is believed at least one of the ''exchange houses'' used in the Australian laundering operation delivers a cut from every dollar it launders to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, whose military wing has been proscribed in Australia as a terrorist group. The investigation has uncovered 40 separate money-laundering operations across Australia, moving hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money offshore, and identified almost 130 serious organised crime figures previously unknown to law-enforcement agencies. [Sydney Morning Herald, today]
From the Halawi website. The screen-shot above, and the
quotation from Thoureau, suggest there may be
some deep cynicism at work in their management team.
(As significant as it seems to us, that Hezbollah tie-in is not mentioned at all in some parts of the Australian media. The government-owned ABC, for instance, fails to make any mention of it in this report from today.)

Today's announcement has a connection to a terrorism-centered investigation revealed in the US this past April.

At that time, the US Treasury published accusations against Lebanese Canadian Bank (now defunct after its assets were sold on to the much larger Societe Generale de Banque au Liban), Kassem Rmeiti & Co. For Exchange, and Halawi Exchange Co.  All were said to be "sophisticated multi-national money laundering organizations that handle drug proceeds for criminal enterprises" and ultimately laundering cash on behalf of Hezbollah. The US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network made a series of findings that effectively cut them off from any interaction with the U.S. financial system. 

The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency's Special Operations Division was quoted at the time saying: 
"Drugs and terrorism co-exist across the globe in a marriage of mutual convenience"... A conservative estimate is that half of the world's "terrorist" organizations have links to drug trafficking. [Reuters, April 23, 2013]
Hezbollah has been "lavishly funded" for years by the Iranian regime, according to the US Treasury. Drug money and the proceeds of illicit cash-laundering evidently play an indispensable enabling role too.

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