WASHINGTON – A US indictment of a Lebanese druglord revealed on Tuesday the close ties between Hezbollah and the drug cartels that have reduced parts of Mexico to near battle zones in recent years.
Ayman Joumaa, 47, was accused in absentia of conspiring to smuggle over 90,000 tons of cocaine into America and laundering over $250 million for the cartels.
Mexico served as a crossroads for the Colombia-manufactured drugs, which Joumaa helped to smuggle between 2005 and 2007.
Although the US Treasury Department listed Joumaa and another nine members of his cadre as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers in January 2011, the Lebanese drug magnate is not in American custody. The indictment was returned in absentia to a federal court’s grand jury last month, but was unsealed this week. If caught and convicted of the charges against him, Joumaa could face a lifetime in prison.
The indictment asserts that Joumaa made millions through his money-laundering operation, receiving between an 8- and 14-percent cut for his services. In January, federal authorities said that at least some of the money had been laundered through the Lebanese Canadian Bank, itself designated by the US Treasury as “a primary money-laundering concern.”
According to a lengthy exposé published by The New York Times, Joumaa is also “known to Israeli intelligence”, having allegedly been in contact with a member of Hezbollah’s elite 1,800 Unit that coordinates attacks against Israeli targets, and who, in turn, “worked for a senior operative who the Israelis believed handled Hezbollah’s drug operations.”
Joumaa allegedly concealed the drug money as legitimate income from a family-run company that resold American used cars in Africa.
The proceeds from the “car sales” were being funneled to the suspect bank via Beirut exchange houses where, investigators believe, modest earnings from actual car sales were intermingled with drug money.
According to the indictment, the money-laundering activities spanned at least four continents, with way-stations in the United States, Lebanon, Benin, Panama, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.”
It is still unclear, however, at what point in the process Hezbollah took its cut.
As revelations were made on Tuesday, US officials focused instead on the role of the trafficker – known as “Junior” – in the Mexican drug war.
“According to information from sources, his alleged drug and money-laundering activities facilitated numerous global drug trafficking organizations, including the criminal activities of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel,” US Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Michele Leonhart said.
For years, members of the intelligence community have warned that the Iranian-supported terrorist organization is deepening its ties in Central and South America with an eye toward the tremendous income potential of the narcotics trade.