When people talk about money laundering operations it is quite common to refer to individuals or entities laundering cash from inside the criminal organization. A lot of illicit networks do have certain individuals in charge of laundering ill gotten gains. As part of the continuous and never-ending modernization of organized crime illicit cells do divide the tasks into different patterns each of which is assigned to certain individuals who must carry on with a specific role. Thus, inside a Mexican kidnapping ring two individuals oversee searching for possible victims, follow them and resemble their daily movements. Two other people oversee the renting of a flat where the victim will be kept. 5 individuals oversee stealing of two vehicles, kidnapping the target, and held he/she captive while the leader of the ring negotiates the ransom. Once paid another member is in charge of dividing the total sum into different quantities to try to introduce them into the financial sector. This guy is the money launderer and can be a member of the organization. Most of organized criminal groups do have their own laundering structures and crews, people and resources that belong directly to the organization. Nevertheless, in the international arena, a place where borders are almost non-existent trying to launder money by using members of your own organization can be hard, difficult and even non profitable. First, you must need a very internationally developed money laundering structure if you want to disguise the origin and transfer abroad the ownership of illicit assets. And second, you need professionals who can be trusted since they must manage hundreds of millions of dollars, euros or pesos while remaining virtually anonymous. The risks associated to running an international money laundering system do increase so much that they can even end up destroying the organization.
That´s why sophisticated criminals do rely on the services of independent money launderers. These people are not members of the organization to which they provide with their services. They are professionals who appear to everyone as respectable professionals who run their businesses legally and in a very profitable way. In other words, they live a double life. During the day they run their business portfolio as any other businessman does. But during the night they switch on their satellite telephones, introduce a new SIM card and agree to accept formidable amounts of cash from illegal actors, make it appear as legitimate income and for a fixed fee give their clients their money back, clean and virtually untraceable.
Professional Money Launderers are the elite of global Organized Crime. They are the ones who resemble the most to the classical character of the Bond villain or to Raymond Reddington. And although one can think that this type of individuals are nothing more than an archetype of Hollywood cheap action movies they´re not. Professional Money Launderers do exist and are extremely powerful. In some cases they belong to genuine business clans, families which in countries such as Panama, Mexico, Colombia or Lebanon have built financial empires that are used as a cover for hiding the fact that they are laundering money for some of the world´s nastiest people.
When the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank elaborate their never ending and astonishingly boring annual reports on Illicit Financial Flows they show hundreds of pages of innocuous data, numbers, probabilities and percentages indicating that yes, that in fact a lot of money disappears into the hand of organized crime each year comprising between 2% and 5% of Global GDP (approx. $4.3 trillion in 2018 only) What these bureaucratic bodies do not explain is how this money is channeled. Who are the ones in charge of counting it, of introducing it in the economy and of investing it overseas. They´re certainly not the owners of the money. People such as Mencho, el Mayo or Dawood Ibrahim are nothing more than a bunch of farmers who have gathered so much power and money than they have become Gods on earth. But although they can be clever enough to evaluate operational risks, determine expansion strategies and funnel tons of drugs to the US, one of the most monitored places on earth, they wouldn´t know very much what to do with the money they earn. The fact that these people can avoid being captured and are so powerful should not lead us to think that they are truly refined masterminds. They survive because of the effect of the violence, fear and greed they exert on others, not because they are infallible.
These individuals have to resort to people that have the necessary skills and resources to manage the laundering of incredibly high amounts of dirty money that otherwise should end up its days stocked in secret but non-profitable locations in the Michoacan Highlands or in the Sinaloan mountain ranges.
What follows is a story of one of this Professional Money Laundering Organizations. It was (and still is) lead by a Colombian-Lebanese called Ayman Saied Joumaa. The Joumaa MLO is involved in the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars each month in four continents (Africa, America, Europe and Asia) and probably is one of the biggest money laundering schemes ever uncovered until now, although this doesn´t mean that it actually is the biggest one in size or capabilities. This issue was covered in two or three well-documented articles in BB back in 2013 by several high-level Administrators/Members such as Mica and Chivis, but I think that the documents and materials being provided here do add some extra and useful material. The Joumaa MLO can´t be understood as a unique and monolithic structure absorbing dirty cash and producing pure and polished profits but rather as a very wide network composed by dozens of independent but correlated nodes operating in several locations by accepting dirty cash and using several strategies to make it appear as legit income for a fixed commission. The whole thing becomes much more interesting since Hezbollah, the world´s most capable terrorist organization, is, as we will see, deeply involved in the laundering of drug profits all along with the Joumaa MLO.
For the sake of space and enjoyment I have divided this report into several chapters that will be duly posted each two weeks since now at BorderlandBeat, if you want. What is being shown here is highly documented and has been obtained mostly from unsealed court documents and several administrative and privately owned databeses I´ve been able to gain access to. The parts that are pure speculation will be stressed as being nothing more than pure conjectures. This has been the longest investigation I´ve never undertaken until now. If you have further interest on doing your own research or you simply have curiosity for the things being shown here don´t hesitate and ask for the documents. I´ll be more than pleased to provide them.
As always, English is not my mother tongue and I´m not capable of writing without errors so the text for sure contains the classical doses of linguistic misspellings. If you have any additional data or notice any errors or omissions, please, comment them.
A few notes about Joumaa MLO and its habitat
Ayman Saied Joumaa was born on June 21, 1964 in Al Karouan in a Sunni family. Back in the 1960´s Lebanon wasn´t known for the brutal conflict between multiple parties that torn the country away for most of the second half of the century. Back in those golden days Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Mediterranean. A society composed by a wide range of cultures with an almost innate talent for commerce and trade made Lebanon a hub for financial assets coming from most of the Middle East. In fact, the Lebanese banking sector developed so much during the 1960´s that it would define Lebanon as the country through which could pour into the Arab world, a region that during most of the 60´s, 70´s and 80´s remained pretty much isolated from the rest of the world because of it nationalistic and autarchic regimes. One of the main characteristics of the Lebanese society (as well as the Palestinian) is its astonishingly numerous diaspora. In fact, just after the initial clashes between Christian Maronite, Muslim and Palestinian factions began during the early 1970´s a massive flow of exiles began (although great numbers of Lebanese citizens had stablished in Africa and Latin America just after WWII when Lebanon gained independence)
It has been impossible to determine when Joumaa abandoned Lebanon but it´s known that he is also a Colombian citizen who travels extensively across the continent. Colombia, Panama, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are just some countries where his network is stablished and operates so it´s logical to suppose that at some point in time he has been travelling through these countries.
One of the characteristics of the Lebanese diaspora is it´s ability to create wealth in whatever sphere the are involved in. Lebanese immigrants stablished in the Tri Border Area (the Iguazu area comprised by the shared borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay) have created real emporiums dealing in contraband goods as well as drugs and arms that fuel the never ending wars of the Brazilian and Peruvian criminal organizations. Lebanese diaspora in West Africa are involved in the trade of diamonds and the import of used goods that are later sold to the little but greedy medium classes of several countries such as Nigeria.
Another characteristic of some members of the Lebanese diaspora is their closeness to criminal organizations. Organized crime in Lebanon is not a novelty. Located in North Eastern Lebanon, the Bekaa valley is internationally known for its enormous Cannabis plantations as well as for a big number of criminal organizations that have been involved since decades ago in the cultivation and exportation of marihuana and hashish. During the 60´s, 70´s and 80´s several Lebanese criminal organizations (as well as some factions of the Lebanese civil war) supplied the Union Corse first and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra later with morphine base that was refined in Sicily or in the Italian mainland before being sold in Europe or exported to the US. Since those days Lebanese organized crime families have evolved a great deal. They have penetrated almost every single illicit economy from drug smuggling to drug trafficking becoming in some cases international crime syndicates operating vast and extremely complicated money laundering operations. Nevertheless, after the ending of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 the Shiite militia Hezbollah became so powerful that it started coopting most of the licit and illicit activities happening inside the country. The appearance of Hezbollah as a regional armed actor in the 1990´s marked a before and an after in the functioning of Lebanese organized crime inside and outside the country.
Hezbollah (which in Arabic means ``The Party of God´´) was created in 1982 by several Iranian and Lebanese Shiite citizens in an effort of spreading through the Middle East the Revolution started by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979. Among the large number of militias fighting in Lebanon during the 1980´s that ranged from Marxist-Leninist Arabian factions to Fascist paramilitary Maronite death squads Hezbollah quickly became known for its ruthless terrorist tactics. In 1983 they were involved in the bombings of the American Embassy and the International Peace-Keeping Barracks in Beirut for which they used a proxy organization called Islamic Jihad.
After the Civil War ended in 1990 Hezbollah was able to maintain control of several Lebanese regions and contrary to other factions such as the Maronite Christians or the PLO (which left Lebanon after the peace accord) didn´t hand over its weapons but remained as a military-political organization whose declared objective was to destroy Israel and spread the Shiite Revolution all over the region. Since then Hezbollah has become a de facto power in Lebanon. They control half of the country through their militia, which coexists with the Lebanese Army virtually as Lebanon´s secondary armed forces. They are constantly engaged in skirmishes with the Israeli Tzahal and since the US fucked everything up in the early 2000´s and detonated several conflicts in the region they have become involved in new conflicts in Syria, Iraq and South Yemen.
During most of its existence Hezbollah has been funded by Iran, specifically by Iran´s Revolutionary Guard. Nevertheless, since the oil price enter into spiral decrease and since the US began imposing sanctions on Iran due to its continuous support of terrorist organizations and for its nuclear program development the ayatollahs have found it increasingly difficult to support their Hezbollah partners with money. In 2010 the State Department estimated that Hezbollah received between $100 and $200 million USD from Iran in order to survive as a regional actor in the middle east. The fact that Hezbollah is a national authority in Lebanon an maintains a permanent military structure in the region (contrary to other organizations that do not have to face such an impressive organizational structure) has raised the costs of funding such an entity extremely high. Since the Iranian Government has found it costly to support Hezbollah with money, it has given permission to the Lebanese militia to engage into several illicit markets that enable the organization to increase its cashflow and gain financial strength. Thus, since the late 1990´s Hezbollah´s involvement into several illicit economies has been discovered all over the world. For example, Hezbollah associates control much of the counterfeit goods entering the American continent through the Tri Border Area. It´s also known that Hezbollah controls either directly or indirectly much of the money laundering operations taking place in Lebanon and several West African countries. In the drug business Hezbollah acts in a very clever way since they do not traffic drugs directly. Instead they rely in a large number of Lebanese traffickers and DTOs that are in charge of buying the narcotics and exporting them abroad while they benefit from the illicit structures managed by Hezbollah to launder the money and channel the profits abroad. This symbiotic relationship between independent DTO´s and Hezbollah is directly managed by an informal body called Business Affair Component (BAC) Created in the 1990´s by Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah´s top and most iconic commander, the BAC oversees the convenience relationships between the organization and the several criminal networks inside and outside Lebanon that are used in order to benefit from illegal activities.
Hezbollah´s Business Affairs Component leadership. After Mughniyah was killed in Syria with a carbomb in 2008, BAC´s leadership fell into the hands of Abdallah Safi-Al-Din and Adham Hussein Tabaja, one of Lebanon´s biggest real estate developers.
When talking about Hezbollah´s operations in illicit markets the organization relies in three different individuals to perform businesses. First, we have the useful idiots. People who are used by Hezbollah to perform illicit businesses because they are eager to participate in a superior cause. As any useful idiot they abound in numbers and are tasked with simple roles such as money couriers or smugglers. The sophisticated networks of credit card and banking fraud operations uncovered in the US are a proof of how suckers can be used to perform illegal business if they think they´re helping to fight the jews. Then we have Hezbollah´s operatives. These people are full members of the organization and are the ones directing much of the operations abroad. They receive instructions from Hezbollah´s high-command, travel outside Lebanon and build up the schemes needed to perform the operations. Most of them are just fanatics of the Cause, but contrary to the useful idiots the are very capable individuals with sophisticated networks of contacts that are used to perform foreign operations. A lot of these guys are operating in West Africa. In the second report that I´ll upload in about two weeks we´ll analyze how a Hezbollah operative established in Ghana sold high amounts of Colombian cocaine and tried to import several tones of Afghan heroine and at the same time provide the Taliban with SAM missiles.
On the third place we have the third type of Hezbollah associate which is by far the most interesting: the Criminal Facilitator. These are professional criminals. Money Launderers, Narcotics traffickers, smugglers, or arms traffickers that partner with Hezbollah because they see in it a profitable and reliable ally that can provide useful contacts for future businesses. The relationship between both parties are useful since Hezbollah benefits from outsourcing its illegal operations to professional individuals that know very well how to operate while for the Criminal Facilitator having one of the most important terrorist organizations on earth as a business partner carries logical high amounts of profits. Ayman Joumaa is the perfect example of Criminal Facilitator.
To finish with this little intro about Lebanese current state of affairs we must talk about how the three main forces involved in this big money laundering conspiracy interact. There are three main actors at the stage: Hezbollah, the Lebanese financial/political sector and Lebanese organized crime families. Each of them conforms what in Lebanon is formally known as ``The System´´, an organic network of alliances and mergers between the three entities that allow each of them to obtain profits and further their existence.
Hezbollah is the de facto ruler of Lebanon. Although the country apparently is a democratic nation where the power is shared between the political actors representing several religious factions of the society (Sunnis, Shiites, Maronites, Druses, etc) it works in fact as an immense pie whose charts must be divided and assigned according to each actor´s weight. Thus, heavy hitters such as Hezbollah do in fact control most of the country legally from the legitimate institutions and at the same time illegally through their militias. Since Hezbollah is seen as a Terrorist Organization by most of the world´s countries it cannot benefit from legitimate sources of income as is constantly looking for external sources of penetration into the financial markets (not only to finance its military campaigns all over the region, but also to rebuild and sustain Lebanon´s economy, badly damaged by the continuous infighting with Israel) The second actor is the Lebanese financial system. As we´ll see Lebanese banking sector is huge and relies on several financial practices that have enabled it to retain much of Lebanese public debt, the tool used by the Government to survive in the international arena. One of the main characteristics of the Lebanese banking sector is its dependence on foreign currency and reserves sent into the country by the numerous and extraordinarily rich Lebanese expatriates. Much of these reserves is conformed by dirty money controlled by Hezbollah associates and Lebanese organized crime and Lebanese banks know it. Nevertheless, they have almost no option but to accept it since it conforms nearly 25% of the countries GDP and its a vital part of their operations inside and outside Lebanon. The third actor is comprised by the several multi-faceted Lebanese organized crime families acting in Lebanon and overseas. Over the years these family-run emporiums have evolved into extremely powerful and deeply rooted businesses involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, Blood Diamond smuggling, arms trafficking, etc. They are a fundamental actor in Lebanon, and they provide the two other actor (Lebanese banks and Hezbollah) with the hard currency the former are constantly needing in order to fund their very existence. These three actors conform ``The System´´ and if you will recognize them very clearly in this Report and the following ones.
Since the 1990´s Hezbollah has developed strong ties with the Lebanese financial sector and Lebanese organized crime groups. In fact, the organization has been able to infiltrate large banking corporations placing affiliates in high posts and instructing them to accept the dirty cash obtained by the BAC abroad and to follow specific business strategies as a result. This fact is related to the real estate boom that Lebanon has experienced in recent years. It is very well known how BAC´s second in command Adham Hussein Tabaja has created a real estate empire throughout Lebanon building hotels, mosques, schools or theme parks.
An overview of Joumaa MLO operations before and during its designation by us Government:
If we want to know how Joumaa´s MLO operated, we must center ourselves in the organization´s status during the late 2000´s and early 2010´s.
On January 26, 2011 the OFAC designated Ayman Joumaa, 9 other individuals and 19 business located in 5 different countries (Lebanon, Panama, Colombia, Benin and the Republic of Congo) as part of the Joumaa Money Laundering Organization (Joumaa MLO), an organization involved in the purchase, transport and distribution of high amounts of cocaine as well as in the laundering of high amounts of money coming from the sales of narcotics in quantities above the $200 million threshold per month.
On Februray 11, the OFAC identified the Lebanese Canadian Bank under the Patriot Act as a financial institution of money laundering primary concern indicating that the LCB had provided services both to Ayman Joumaa´s MLO as well as to Hezbollah.
Things escalated quickly and on November 3 US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria issued a seal indictment against Ayman Saied Joumaa for two counts; one for ``Conspiracy to Distribute Five Kilograms or More of Cocaine Knowing and Intending that it will be Unlawfully Imported into the United States´´ and the other one for ``Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering´´. The indictment was noticeably short, just 7 pages. But it contained a specific accusation: Ayman Joumaa and his co-conspirators had coordinated the smuggling of at least 85,000 kgs. of Colombian cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to sale it to Los Zetas between 2005 and 2007.
The indictment went even further stating that the Joumaa MLO had been involved in the laundering of at least $250 million from 1997 until 2010. According to the court indictment Joumaa acted as follows: he had several contacts in the countries where the drugs where sold. These countries were Mexico, several European nations (mainly Spain) and several West Africa States. Once they had the cash the associates would contact Joumaa through Blackberry PIN, email or phone and they all arranged the transference of the funds to Colombia and Venezuela where they where distributed in the form of local currency (pesos and bolivars) to the original suppliers which had provided the cocaine. For doing so Joumaa MLO would charge a fee ranging from 8% to 14% of the whole sum being laundered.
The Mexican branch of the Joumaa MLO was designated in the indictment as one of the most important. According to the document the proceeds coming from the distribution of the cocaine supplied by Joumaa to Los Zetas were channeled to Mexico City in briefcases containing between $2 and 4$ million each time. After being handed to the Joumaa MLO the network would transfer them in a time span of just 5 days to the original suppliers in Colombia and Venezuela.
The exact way how Ayman Joumaa got the money was well stablished in an Affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant on June 17, 2011. In the document DE Special Agent Kevin Schreiber declared about his role in the Joumaa investigation. According to his statement most of the case was built on several Joumaa associates and ex-associates who preferred to declare against their former boss. These people were known as Confidential Sources (CSs) 1, 2 and 3.
CS1 started working for Joumaa in 2004. Together with others he assited the Joumaa MLO in the smuggling of at least 85,000 kgs of cocaine to Los Zetas through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico and was also in charge of picking up the dollars in the US or Mexico from the cartel in order to give them to Joumaa. CS2 also started working for Joumaa in 2004. He (or she) was instructed by CS1 to contact Joumaa through Blackberry PIN, email or phone in order to designate a delivery point where the money would be delivered to the network for its laundering. CS2 worked with the Joumaa MLO until 2008 but due to pressures from ICE (with which he/she was already collaborating) kept contact until October 2010.
CS3 confessed that he/she had been laundering money on the behalf several DTOs since 1997 until September 2010. CS3 estimated that he/she had laundered at least $250 million for 13 years. Between 2007 and 2008 CS3 was introduced to a man called Alejandro Lopez, a Colombian money launderer in the business of laundering dirty cash coming from Mexico, Central America and Europa. Alejandro Lopez introduced CS3 to Ayman Joumaa quoting him as his business party in money laundering operations. From 2008 onwards CS3 and Alejandro Lopez started collaborating in the laundering of millions of drug money coming from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras re-directing them to Colombia and Panama. During 2 years both individuals laundered between $20 and $25 millions charging a fee of 14%.
Joumaa´s MLO Latin American operations. The drug came from Colombian and Venezuelan suppliers. It was smuggled into Mexico through Central American (mainly through Honduras and Guatemala) There the cocaine was handed over to the Mexican organizations that introduced it into the US and paid Joumaa´s associates in Mexico City with high amounts of US dollars. Joumaa´s MLO would launder these funds and pay back in a few days its clients in Colombian pesos and Venezuela bolivars. There´s still one question in the air: how did Joumaa MLO launder this funds?
If we want to know more about how the American branch of the Joumaa MLO operated and still operates by bringing dirty dollars from the US to Colombia and paying regional distributors with local currencies we must analyze a highly sophisticated money laundering scheme known as Black Market Peso Exchange. The BMPE is perhaps the most famous and perfectioned Trade-Based Money Laundering technique ever developed and applied to the drug trafficking business. Since its history and behavior are quite long an complicated will analyze them together with several ramifications of the American branch in Europe in the second report that I´ll try to upload in a pair of weeks.
Now, the indictment charged Joumaa for his intervention in the exportation of cocaine into the US and for the money laundering operations he carried for several drug distributors internationally but mainly in Latin America. Thus, this indictment was centered only in some parts of the American branch of the Joumaa MLO but did not mention any other specific activities of the network. We must consider the Joumaa MLO as an international organization carrying out business everywhere. Nevertheless, since the indictment charged Joumaa with crimes committed in relation to the US most of the media and people covering the story didn´t stress the fact that the crimes reflected in the indictment were only a tiny partial fraction of the whole network.
We must wait until December 15 to hear news about Joumaa again. On that day, the Attorney for Southern District of New York filed a complaint against seven entities (among them the Lebanese Canadian Bank) for providing support or directly being owned by several narcotic traffickers and money launderers, among them Ayman Joumaa. The Complaint was extensive and highly detailed and when it was enhanced through a second Amended version on October 26, 2012, it reached nearly 80 pages. The complaint explained how several narcotics traffickers and money launderers had been involved in the smuggling and laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars and euros coming from drug distribution through a quite elaborated scheme that involved several businesses in Switzerland, West Africa, Lebanon and the US. In fact, the whole system worked in the following way: Lebanese money launderers would send dirty money cashed in money exchanges in West Africa and Lebanon to the US through the Lebanese Canadian Bank. The funds were wired into bank accounts belonging to several US secondhand car dealers. These US businesses bought cars in the US market and handed them to several companies that exported the vehicles to some West African countries where they were sold for cash that would be deposited into the Lebanese Canadian Bank who would wire it again to the same US businesses for buying new cars. And so on.
DRUG TRAFFICKING IN WEST AFRICA: AN INTRODUCTION
On 2007 the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a report titled ``Cocaine Trafficking in Western Africa, Situation Report´´. In the Report the UN´s agency stated quite directly that several countries in West Africa, among them Guinea-Bissau as the biggest by far, had become deeply involved in the importation of drugs from all over the world. According to the Report West African countries were being used as storages and intermediate locations from which these drugs (heroin, but mainly cocaine) were later exported to Europe and the US. The UNODC Report literally caused a shock in the sense that almost no one had imagined that one of the earth´s toughest places, torn away by civil wars and continuous natural disasters could, could have evolved into one of the most important drug distribution hubs in the planet. Since then a continuous dripping of news about cocaine seizures, landing strips in the middle of nowhere and of convoys filled with bricks of cocaine travelling through the Sahara has contributed to the creation of the concept of West Africa in general, an specific West African countries in particular, as new heavy-hitters in the arena of international drug trafficking. Nevertheless, drug trafficking is nothing new in West Africa.
There is one country that at least since the end of WWII has been deeply involved in drug distribution developing eventually a very sophisticated network of criminal organizations that have evolved until becoming a real threat to international security: Nigeria.
The first reports about drug-related issued in Nigeria can be traced back to the 1930´s, when the country still was a British colony. In 1934 British authorities tried to grow coca plants in the botanic gardens of Calabar in an attempt of using coca leaves to stimulate local workers and, who knows, maybe with long-term exporting plans. Then, just after WWII several American and British veterans started growing marihuana in local bases and introduced the locals to the business. By the 1950´s several networks composed by Nigerians and Ghanaians already were growing marihuana locally and exporting it to several European countries, mainly to the UK. During these years, the presence of Lebanese drug-smuggling rings in West Africa was detected for the first time. On 1952 several US officials reported that a Lebanese crime syndicate was smuggling heroin from Beirut to New York through commercial flights departing from Kano in Nigeria and Accra in Ghana. This Lebanese West African branch would grow until becoming a giant in the world of organized crime in the region as we will see.
During the 1960´s and 1970´s European appetite for drugs (marihuana and heroin, mainly) was in part satisfied by several Nigerian organizations that started importing white heroin from Southeast China (mainly from Thailand) The Nigerian organizations would recruit couriers locally sending them to Europe with bags filled up with small doses of heroin or with relatively big amounts of packed marihuana.
Nevertheless, we must wait until the early 1980´s to see Nigeria become an international drug distribution hub. By the beginning of the decade West African countries faced great problems. The civil conflicts of the 1960´s and 1970´s were almost forgotten, but the economic expansion of the late 60´s had been financed with public expenditure and the balance of accounts of several West African countries were so exhausted that they had to undergo financial restructuration imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. The most direct consequence of Nigeria´s restructuration was a massive cut on public expenditure as well as the dismissal of thousands of public employees that found themselves without a stable job. Almost immediately Nigeria transformed itself into an anarchic country were former public servants began getting involved into fraud and illegal corruption schemes whose size have no parallel. Corruption (mainly linked to the nation´s enormous oil reserves) became so rampant that the creation of sophisticated and diversified criminal syndicates was only a matter of time. During these years, several Colombian organizations began targeting Europe as a new business front. The effective seizures in the Caribbean as well as the expectations of bigger profits in the Old Continent made Colombian cartels to start exporting tons of cocaine into Europe. During the 1980´s most of the cocaine reaching Europe entered through Galicia, Spain´s most northwestern province, and Holland, but a some part of the shipments started to be channeled through several Western African ports, all of them controlled by several Nigerian crime organizations that had spread through the region after General´s Buhari downfall in 1983.
During the 1980´s the Nigerian criminal organization designed also one of the most famous drug-smuggling techniques, the human mule who swallows dozens of condoms filled with little doses of cocaine and heroin. By the 1990´s passengers coming into Europe from Nigeria where searched by large numbers. It was around this time that Nigerian criminal organizations started monopolizing the smuggling of heroin into the UK by the simple method of sending thousands of people who had swallowed 30 or 40 condoms filled with little amounts of white heroin. It was also around this time that Nigerian organized crime began developing massive scam schemes performed through telephone and mail not only targeting native English speakers but people in Spain, Italy and northern Europe. The privatization of oil supposed an extra field of work that reported millions of dollars for Nigerian smugglers in the Niger delta that started exchanging them for large caches of weapons handed to several militias that were fighting against oil multinationals in the region. By the early 2000´s the saturation of US cocaine market as well as the increasingly numerous drug seizures in the coasts of Spain made Colombian exporters to develop even stronger ties with Nigerian criminal organizations that had already founded new branches in countries such as Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, Cote d´Ivoire, Benin or Togo. The fact that these countries are mostly ruled by venal and highly authoritative authorities always involved in the sack of local resources for the benefit of certain ethnic layers of society meant an extra bonus for Latin American cocaine traffickers.
During the early 2000´s several reports were already exposing seizures of high amounts of cocaine. In 2000 a ship was intercepted in the Caribbean with 2.3 tones of cocaine. The destination of the ship was Cape Verde. In 2003 a shipment of 7.5 tones of cocaine was seized on a ship en route to Spain directly from Cape Verde and Senegal. In 2006 a ship containing 3.7 tones of Colombian cocaine was seized between the Canary Islands and Senegal. On January 31 2008, 2.4 tones of cocaine where seized when they where heading in a ship to Nigeria coming from Liberia. The example of extremely large shipments of cocaine being seized in West African countries such as the previous ones are numerous since the 2000´s.
The state of play has reached such a level that one of the countries most deeply involved in the import and export of high amounts of cocaine, Guinnea-Bissau, is currently labelled as the first African ``Narco-State´´. There the army and the navy are a fundamental actor in the cocaine trade. They receive the shipments in the sea directly from Colombian or Venezuelan vessels wearing flags of convenience or in air strips deep inside the country from airplanes coming from Venezuela or Brazil. The packs are then transferred to military barracks where they are kept until the organization in charge of repackaging and exporting them to further markets appears to take control of the operation. The military and Government officials involved in the trade are paid directly with cash or are allowed to keep several packages of cocaine as payment in kind.
THE AFRICAN-LEBANESE-US MONEY LAUNDERING SCHEME
How did the US secondhand car import-export system work?
To understand how the Joumaa MLO and several Hezbollah-affiliated criminal networks used the US as a money laundering base we must explain how this organization has been able to partner with these kinds of entities. There are three phases in the relationship between Hezbollah and Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) During the first phase Hezbollah was limited to tax the groups operating in its zones of influence in Lebanon (mainly the Bekaa valley, a Hezbollah no-go area and center of the Lebanese local drug production) The second phase happened at some point between the late 1990´s and early 2000´s when Hezbollah started needing huge amounts of hard currency to finance its arms race that preceded the 2006 war with Israel. During this phase Hezbollah used some Lebanese criminal organizations (mainly the Khanafer, Nassour and Ahmad clans centered in the trade of blood diamonds in Sierra Leone, Ziare and Liberia since the 1980´s) to establish contacts with some drug trafficking organizations in order to offer its resources as collaborator. The third phase began after the end of the Israeli-Lebanese war of 2006. The country was so damaged by the effects of the Israeli invasion that Hezbollah found itself in a desperate situation where funds were needed not only to survive as an organization but as a mean of rebuilding Lebanon. Thus, Hezbollah started offering its services as a multi-faceted organization engaged in money laundering, smuggling and arms/drug trafficking to other organization among which we can find the Oficina de Envigado (Medellin´s top gang) and the Zetas cartel. The promotion of Hezbollah as an international criminal facilitator (a multinational of crime we could say) was always directed by the BAC, led at the time by Imad Mughniyah.
The Joumaa network was identified and designated in 2011 for exporting nearly 85,000 kgs. of cocaine to Los Zetas and running a massive money laundering scheme between the US, West Africa and Lebanon. We must think about the Joumaa MLO as an organization embedded inside the BAC´s international range of operations, conducting businesses for itself while at the same time facilitating drug trafficking and money laundering services to Hezbollah by pouring dirty cash (hard currency) into Lebanon´s banking sector which is highly influenced by the former.
It is very difficult to say where the US-African-Lebanese system starts because it´s a constant feedback scheme always in constant motion. It´s like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg? The money or the cars?
If we have to believe court documents, it all started with money coming from Lebanese banks into the accounts held at several US based banks by local used cars dealers.
A few words about Lebanese financial sector:
The Lebanese balance of payments is characterized by a huge trade deficit that local authorities are constantly trying to palliate through massive capital inflows. Nevertheless, the capital inflows are not big enough to cover Lebanon´s main problem: Lebanese citizens and corporations are currently sending abroad more money and assets than those coming into the country.
According to the IMF in 2009 Lebanon presented a public debt of 150% its GDP. To maintain the state of affairs stable, Lebanese banks purchase this public debt with hard currency imported into the country from abroad. Thus, most Lebanese banks present a portfolio were a great deal of the assets (nearly 2/3) is represented by Lebanese sovereign debt.
One of the main strengths and at the same time weaknesses of the Lebanese financial sector is its dependence on US currency. Lebanon´s currency is the Lebanese Pound, but in order to avoid high inflation rates and maintain high interest rates the Lebanese Central Bank stablished a fixed peg with respect to the dollar that is currently tearing apart. Because of this tight relationship with the US dollar the Lebanese economy has been managed almost as a dollarized economy. For example, by 2018 67% of Lebanese banks deposits were denominated in US dollars. Most of these deposits belong to Lebanese expatriates living abroad and sending earnings back to Lebanon. In 2009 the World Bank estimated that approximately 21% of Lebanon´s GDP ($7 billion) came from the Lebanese diaspora and stated that it was feasible that a large part of these $7 billion was dirty money being poured into the Lebanese economy by foreign criminal organizations, including Hezbollah. The fact that the whole Lebanese economy is dependent on US dollars means that most of the Lebanese financial sector manages its daily activities through correspondent accounts held at US banks. This means that Lebanese banks conduct their businesses not directly but rather through the intermediation of US banks holding their US dollars.
In conclusion, Lebanese expatriates (among them criminal organizations and Hezbollah) deposit hard currency into Lebanese banks that use it to buy public debt issued by Lebanese Government/Central Bank. The Lebanese economy will manage to survive as long as this sort of Ponzi scheme continues working and in fact the overall signs are pretty bad for Lebanon, in Marc 2020 the announced for the first time that they wouldn´t cope with external debt payment.
The Joumaa MLO used several parties to introduce money into Lebanon from Western Africa. These parties were independent organizations and several networks directly affiliated to Hezbollah. According to legal documents one of the main allies of Joumaa´s MLO in the region was the network directed by Maroun Sleiman Saade, a Lebanese drug trafficker and money launderer acting in West Africa. On February 8 2011 Saade was indicted for trying to sell large quantities of cocaine, as well as high caches of weapons to two individuals posing as Taliban representatives (the characteristics of the Saade Organization are so interesting that we´ll investigate them in an independent Report I´ll publish in a few weeks) Saade, a Maronite Christian, was at the time a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, the biggest Lebanese Maronite political party and a close ally of Hezbollah.
Maroun Saade wasn´t an independent actor, his network worked for an even bigger network directed by Oussama Salhab. Born in the Bekaa valley (Lebanon´s top drug producing region), he resides in Togo and Lebanon and according to US Government is an active member of Hezbollah in charge of managing a big network of money couriers between West Africa and Lebanon.
Saade´s organization also worked with Imad Zbib, a Hezbollah affiliate and arms trafficking in charge of importing huge shipments of cocaine (between 2 and 3 tones per shipment) from Colombia to Togo. From Togo he would send the shipments to Europe concealed in secondhand cars he sent using several car dealerships he owned in the African country.
In the end the movement of dirty dollars and cars between the US, West Africa and Lebanon was made possible by three main organizations: Joumaa MLO, Saade MLO and Salhab MLO.
Each of the three MLOs had developed a tight network of shell companies being used as conduits through which the money poured from several West African countries into Lebanon.
Joumaa´s MLO Affiliated Companies:
Ayman Joumaa controls at least 19 companies in 5 different countries all of which are used to receive dirty money and transfer it abroad. In my opinion Joumaa MLO doesn´t only own these 19 companies but a far bigger number of corporations that do not appear in the radar beacuse they are owned or managed by strawmen in offshore jurisdictions. The exact number of Joumaa´s MLO companies won´t ever be known but it could easily reach 100 or more.
In Lebanon the Joumaa MLO was linked to Hassan Ayash Exchange Company SARL. With branches in Madame Curie and in Hamra Streets in Beirut, the Hassan Ayash Exchange was supposedly owned by Mahmoud Hassan Ayash and his son Hassan Mahmoud Ayash. Its main office was located just besides Caesar Park Hotel, another business owned by the Joumaa MLO. Hassan Ayash Exchange was used by several Lebanese money laundering (among them Joumma´s MLO) and was popular for two reasons. First the owner had strong family ties with several high-ranking Hezbollah commanders, among them Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah´s General Secretary. Secondly, contrary to what it might seem Hassan Ayash exchange was an elite firm. For opening bank accounts on the behalf of the firm you should be promoted by a preceding client as a trusted party known for your financial capacity and seriousness. This method of client recommendation is very common in the money laundering business since it is the only way through which financial operators can be sure that the client is a trusted individual. Between January 2007 and January 2011 Hassan Ayash sent $141,522,091 to the US on the behalf of several West African firms controlled by Joumaa MLO and several colleagues.
In Africa Joumaa´s MLO founded an emporium called Ellissa Holdings, a network of 9 companies stablished in Lebanon, Benin and the Republic of Congo. The Ellissa Group, as it became known for the OFAC, operated in several business areas. It was in the business of Money Exchanges, electronics, import-export, commercial retailing, and car dealerships. The head of the Group was Ellissa Holding SAL. Owned by two Lebanese citizens called Jamal Mohamad Kharoubi and Ali Mohamed Kharoubi, it was based in Beirut´s financial Central District. More specifically, it was based in Weygand´s Street Atrium Building, a very modern and ``chic´´ place in the capital.
From Lebanon the Group had developed a heavy branch in the city of Cotonou, Benin´s capital. There the Group owned Ellissa Group SA (which owned a parking lot where US imported cars were stored), Ellissa Megastore, Ellissa Parc Cotonou, Ellissa Shipping (which was in charge of importing US cars to Cotonou´s port), Agrophen and Yamen Benin SARL. In the Republic of Congo´s elite financial district, Pointe Noire, the owned Societé Ellissa Group Congo.
Nevertheless, the Group´s most important company was Lebanese Ellissa Exchange Company. Based in Sarafand, in south east Lebanon, Ellissa Echange wired between 2007 and 2011 at least $61,747,524 to the US for purchasing used cars.
Joumaa MLO corporate network. Several companies in Lebanon, Colombia and Panama have been skipped for space reasons.
Salhab´s MLO Affiliated Companies:
Oussama Salhab controlled at least 6 companies directly or through his relatives. These businesses were located in Lebanon, West Africa, the US and Switzerland. For example, in Benin he owned STE Nomaco SARL which was in charge of running several used car lots in the country. Salhab also controlled STE Marco SARL, a transport company operating netween Togo and Ghana. A broader territorial spectrum was achieved through Salhab Travel Agency, a company operating in the whole region.
I have tracked a 4th mysterious company which according to legal documents belongs to Oussama Salhab. Its name is Yasmin Shipping and Trading. Based in the United Arab Emirates, an offshore jurisdiction with adamant corporate secrecy laws, I´ve been able to discover that it´s located at the Sharjah Airport International Free Zone, an area destined for merchandise and products that are not subjected to local taxes (Free Zones are extremely popular in international commerce and almost every single country has one or two of them)
The two last companies owned by the Salhab network are correlated. Stablished in Riedstrasse 1, Dietikon (on the Swiss canton of Zurich), Cybamar Swiss Gmbh LLC appears in the Swiss Zentraler Firmenindex as a company whose corporate objective is ``the mediation in transports by land, air and sea, as well as the export and import of finished and unfinished goods, especially industrial goods, mainly in Switzerland´´. This broad spectrum of activities hides the fact that Cybamar Swiss can be used almost for everything. According to Swiss Public Registry the ``company is entitled to establish branches to start up related business activity, to participate in companies of all kinds, to acquire, manage and sell real estate and to conduct all business transactions that are suitable for promoting the purpose of the company´´. According to its funding corporate statutes Cybamar could expand through the creation of new branches outside Switzerland. That´s why in 2007 it created Cybamar Swiss LLC, a new branched based in Redford, Michigan. As far as I know Cybamar Swiss LLC USA is still active and has been managed by three relatives of Oussama Salhab: Dina Salhab, Fadi Salhab and Bassem Salhab. The purpose and role of Cybamar Swiss LLC USA in the conspiracy was to be the entity in charge of picking up the secondhand vehicles acquired with dirty money coming from Lebanon and shipping them by sea to West Africa.
Salhab MLO corporate network scheme
Independent MLO Companies:
In this African branch of the money laundering scheme also appear several companies directed by several individuals that apparently are not affiliated to any Lebanese organized crime group nor to Hezbollah. Nevertheless, the fact that they cannot be tied to any other bigger acter doesn´t mean that they belong to individuals operating independently. Given that most of these entities are owned by Lebanese nationals with strong Hezbollah ties and that the places where they are located are Hezbollah´s BAC playgorund they must belong to any of the several parties involved in the conspiracy: Joumaa MLO, Salhab MLO, Hezbollah or any other big player. These entities, as well as the previous companies, were used as corporate vehicles to make payments done to the US car dealerships through Lebanese banks appear legitimate.
Phenicia Shipping Offshore SARL is based in Beirut and might be related with Yasmin Shipping and Trading. Between 2007 and 2011 Phenicia Shipping sent through Ellissa Exchange at least $12,406,212 to US dealers for purchasing and importing used cars.
Fakih for General Trade is owned Khodor and Ali Fakih. Khodor is an affiliated member of Hezbollah and is involved in the secondhand vehicle market in Cotonou, Benin. Between 2007 and 2011 the Fakih brothers sent through Fakih for General Trade at least $2,589,325 to the US for purchasing and importing secondhand cars.
Fadi Star is owned by Fadi Hassan Hammoud and Mohammad Hassan Hammoud. It´s a shipping company based in Cotonou, Benin. Fadi Hassan is a full member of Hezbollah and has been tied as to Khodor Fakih as business partner. Between 2007 and 2011 Fadi Star sent at least $11,382,906 to the US to buy and import used cars.
M/S Universal Motors is owned by Deeb Atieh, Mohammed Deeb Atieh and Fakih Atieh. Deeb Atieh is a known member of Hezbollah from the Lebanese town of Kafra.Between 2007 and 2011 M/S Universal Motors sent at least $2,657,307 to the US through Lebanese banks to buy used cars.
Parallelly, several individuals were used in order to make random transfers to the US from Lebanese banks with the same objective: buy used cars from American car dealerships. Youssef Sobhi Nehme, a self-declared Hezbollah supporter, sent $21,832,344 between 2007 and 2011 while Mohamad Manana is a Hezbollah member working for Maroun Saade. During those 4 years he transferred $2,444,527 to the US.
Movement of cash in West Africa by the network:
Each year hundreds of millions of US dollars are sent from West Africa to Lebanon. A great deal of these dollars come from local sales of secondhand cars (mainly to Nigerians citizens) while the rest of it comes from illicit activities such as oil theft in the Niger delta, blood diamond smuggling and drug trafficking. We must take into account that licit and illicit activities happening in West Africa are dealt in local currency. This local currency is then turned into dollars either by local money exchange houses managed by Lebanese expatriates or in the black market for currency at a discount rate. Most of the US dollars are exported to Lebanon through several smuggling and money courier networks controlled directly by Hezbollah and some affiliated organizations. These individuals smuggled US dollars into Lebanon mainly through commercial flights from Benin. For example, on December 9, 2010, 3 individuals who had arrived directly from Benin where arrested in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris carrying $6,5 millions as well as €48,500 in cash. One of the individuals carried with him a business card from Ellissa Megastore in Cotonou, Benin.
Another way of smuggling dollars into Lebanon was also through commercial flights from Accra´s airport in Ghana, which is only 210 miles away from Benin. The route between Benin and Ghana goes through Togo´s capital, Loma, which is just in the border with Ghana. Between 2007 and 2008 local Ghanaian customs detected the declared exportation of $1,2 billions in US currency through Loma´s crossing point. From this quantity nearly $845 million were declared by Lebanese citizens.
From the African airports the cash carried by money couriers gets into Lebanese airports where Lebanese militiamen escort it to local banks for its deposit. For example, a money courier network working for the Oussama Salhab MLO declared $97 million and nearly €22,5 million in the border between Togo and Ghana during 2007 and 2008. Some of the couriers ended up asking for tourist visas for entering the US for buying secondhand cars. Oussama Salhab´s involvement in the smuggling strategies is direct. For example, Salhab and four other individuals facilitated Ghanaian authorities STE Marco SARL telephone number in order to make contact with them if any problem relating currency smuggling arose. Between 2007 and 2008 the 5 of them declared $7,922,950 and €2,667,600. Another example, 38 money couriers gave contacting data of Salhab Travel Agency for the smuggling of currency between Ghana and Togo. Between the 38 they declared $77,178,683 as well as €16,013,808 during 2007 and 2008.
We must take into account these numbers must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole amounts of US currency smuggled into Lebanon since Lebanese money couriers do not declare most of their merchandise and they always try to move the currency into other countries hiding it. For example, on March 15 2009, Mahama Houssam, an employee of Oussama Salhab, was caught by the Togolese police smuggling undeclared currency and was freed only after Maroun Saade, one of Salhab´s main operatives, bribed local policemen. On another occasion, on July 21 2010 Oussama Salhab himself was caught again by Togolese authorities trying to smuggle $798,150 undeclared into Ghana in a secret compartment inside his car. Salhab alleged that the cash came from the legitimate sale of used cars in the country by one of his companies, STE Marco SARL. Maroun Saade again freed his boss paying a bribe to local policemen.
Money inflows into West Africa. Cocaine is landed and repackaged in several countries of the region by Lebanese criminal organizations recruited by Hezbollah´s BAC. The organizations also import used cars from the US taht are sold locally. Both activities generate high amounts of cash that are smuggled from Benin, Ghana and Togo into Lebanon, where tehy´re deposited in several banks that then wire the money to the US where more cars are purchased re-starting tha system again
Getting the cash into Lebanese banks:
After leaving West Africa hard currency in the form of US dollars, Euros, Sterling Pounds as well as Swiss Francs arrive at Lebanese airports. There, the couriers are escorted by Hezbollah armed men to the business and banks where the money will be placed (injected into the financial system) There are two ways of doing this. The simplest one is directly depositing the money into a bank. Officially Lebanon is a member of the MENAFATF(Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force) and conducts yearly reviews of its overweight financial system, which is cataloged with a Low Risk label. In fact Lebansese banks, as well as several financial institutions in neighboring countries such as Cyprus and Israel, are very well known for accepting large amounts of cash from clients of dubious reputation without asking questions.
The second way how money coming from West Africa is introduced into Lebanese banks is through money exchanges affiliated to several Lebanese criminal heavy hitters (mainly Ayman Joumaa) as well as to Hezbollah-related individuals. These businesses, such as Hassan Ayash or Ellissa Exchange, accept cash, but they soon transfer it to the banks where they held dollar-denominated accounts. There were several Lebanese banks used by Joumaa, Hezbollah and their pals to receive dirty dollars coming from West Africa, but of all of them the Lebanese Canadian Bank might be the most famous one.
The Lebanese Canadian Bank case:
Before being designated by the US Government LCB was Lebanon´s 8th biggest financial institution. Based in Beirut and with 35 branches all over the country LCB hold assets representing $5 billion. At the same time LCB controlled several companies in Lebanon and abroad through its holding structure. For example, LCB controlled 51% of the shares of the Gambian Prime Bank Limited, which was also used to funnel US currency into its central company (LCB) through correspondent accounts. Before being designated as a laundromat the LCB was very well known as a bank with especially low AML mechanisms and as a financial service provider to several diamond smuggling networks operating in West Africa as well as to several Hezbollah officials. Among LCB´s dubious clients Ayman Joumaa was one of the best exponents.
As the FinCen explained Joumaa MLO used primarily LCB as a way of channeling dirty cash into Lebanon and outside the country. Thus, between 2006 and 2011 it is known that Joumaa MLO received at least $66 million through Lebanese banks. Approximately 94% of these funds were traced back to the LCB. Ayman Joumaa himself held a personal account (#221338) at LCB.
In fact, two of LCB´s best clients were two very well-known Joumaa-affiliated entities; Hassan Ayash Exchange and Ellissa Exchange. Both money exchanges dealt with the LCB through its local branch at Verdun. Although several LCB´s Internal Compliance officers had raised their suspicions about both entities’ accounts inside the bank high-ranking LCB officials did nothing about it. By 2006 Hassan Ayash had become LCB´s biggest foreign currency provider, mainly in the form of dollars although when Hassan Ayash Exchange stablished relations with LCB it used to deposit a wide range of foreign currencies.
Between January 2007 and February 2011, the LCB transferred at least $229,872, 953 from Joumaa MLO controlled bank accounts to the US where the money was used for buying and importing used cars.
The extent of LCB´s involvement in money laundering operations was eventually surpassed by the fact that several high-ranking members of the bank were discovered to have familiar ties with several Hezbollah important figures. In February 2011 US Department of the Treasury designated the LCB as ``a financial institution of money laundering primary concern´´. The most direct effect was the suspension of US dollar-denominated correspondent accounts held by the LCB in US financial institutions thus depriving LCB from most of its valuable hard currency. This event was dramatic for Lebanon´s banking industry, which is deeply involved in the same dirty business and start fearing further retaliation by US authorities. In fact, the event also affected the Lebanese Government which started fearing financial panic and bank runs. Thus, in just three weeks the Société Générale de Banque au Liban SAL (SGBL) announced that they would purchase most of LCB´s assets and liabilities for $580 million. As part of the sanitization of SGBL´s purchase the bank announced that a famous auditing firm owned by former US General Attorney John Ashcroft would audit the assets and liabilities acquired. By December 2011 the auditors had found at least 200 LCB accounts directly managed by Hezbollah affiliated individuals. The reaction of Hezbollah´s financial proxies was simple; they moved their accounts to 10 other Lebanese banks where they are still profiting from international money laundering operations.
One real example of the symbiosis between West African money couriers, Lebanese banks and Lebanese exchange houses will provide a partial snapshot of the whole system. Abdul Latif Fawaz was a money couriers working for the Tajideen family, one of the main groups working as Hezbollah´s main money launderers from West Africa. In 2008 the organization exported a large amount of US dollars from Ghana to Lebanon through a commercial flight. On July 19 2008, Abdul Latif deposited $20,000 into New Line Exchange Trust Co., a money exchange controlled by the Joumaa network in Lebanon. and him with a receipt. Immediately after that New Line Exchange instructed its bank, the LCB, to debit the $20,000 to one of his dollar-denominated accounts (account #173902) and transfer electronically the amount to an account controlled by a Hezbollah operative in SGBL (account # 072004440591185013) Of course it´s almost impossible to track the final transaction between LCB and SGBL to drug money coming from Ghana. It´s a perfect scheme benefitting both the banks, Hezbollah and the criminal organizations involved in the transaction.
Sending the money to the US:
One of the main ways of laundering money for the whole conspiracy was to send some of the money deposited into Lebanese banks by Hezbollah and its allied organized crime groups to the US to purchase secondhand cars. It must be stressed that this kind of money laundering in which the transfer of funds between bank accounts to disguise its origin gives way to the dealing in merchandise (such as used cars, food supplies, electronic equipment or fuel) is a very specific money laundering typology called Trade-Based Money Laundering and is in fact the future of the money laundering industry. In further reports about Joumaa´s MLO different branches (mainly taking place in Panama and Colombia) I´ll analyze in detail how Trade-Based Money Laundering operations work.
In this case the money was wired directly from Lebanese banks into several accounts held by 30 different US car dealerships all over the country (mainly in the Eastern Coast) The method was simple: the LCB, which was the bank in the center of the US branch of the network, was instructed by several companies linked to Joumaa/Salhab MLOs to wire money into the bank accounts of the US dealerships instructing them to buy specific types of cars and to ship them to West Africa with the aid of several Joumaa/Salhab-affiliated companies.
The amount of funds being wired to the US by the LCB is huge. In fact, I´ve been able to obtain the transcripts where the exact amounts are reflected. What follows is a relation of the US car dealerships (including addresses, ownership and bank accounts being held at US banks) receiving money as well as the entities who sent the funds through the LCB and the number of transfers between both parties.
If you´ve been able to reach this point of the Report, you might ask yourself the following question: where these US car dealerships owned by Hezbollah affiliated individuals? I´ve not been able to identify any of the owners of the entities as Hezbollah supporters, but this doesn´t mean anything because if we analyze the bank accounts being held by these businesses we can easily find nearly 15 accounts of several car dealerships from Detroit to Florida being held in the same branch of the Bank of America at Richmond, Virginia. This might suggest that the accounts were opened at the same place by a few individuals connected to the network.
If this is true Hezbollah´s BAC has been able to penetrate the US with hundreds of legitimate businesses that do conduct regular businesses while at the same time their engaged in huge scale money laundering operations. It´s important to note that several Hezbollah-run business schemes have been already uncovered both in the US and Canada, but they were related to illicit activities such as tax fraud, cigarette smuggling and credit card fraud, not to explicit legitimate business activities.
The true thing is that some of these companies are still active conducting business as usual even though the US Government exerted back in 2011 a civil action against all of them confiscating millions of dollars both in money deposited in those bank accounts as well as in cars already purchased by the Lebanese entities.
After this analysis we can conclude that something is wrong with this scheme. If Joumaa´s MLO and other Hezbollah-affiliated groups were purchasing used cars in the US, exporting them to West Africa, selling them there and sending the profits to Lebanon to re-start the system again we can say that this is not a money laundering operation but rather a legal business network which has to export thousands of cars in order to obtain some profits. According to US authorities Joumaa MLO acted as a money launderer for several Latin American Drug Trafficking Organizations receiving cash in Mexico and sending it abroad paying its clients in a few days. In order to explain how Joumaa MLO pays his clients we must analyze the Black Market Peso Exchange as well as the Asian branch of the Conspiracy.
For reasons of space I´ve decided to analyze these operations involving Mexican and Colombian cartels in a possible second post. This post was designed as an introduction to the mergers between Hezbollah, Lebanese banks, the Joumaa MLO and several Lebanese organized crime families, the Mexican/Colombian connection comes after this. Let me know if you want to know more about this issue and in that case I´ll post further texts.
Do you write all of these reports yourself?
I haven't had the opportunity to read this in full yet but your posts are always fascinating and well researched.
Thank you for your contributions and hard work, I can only imagine you're either a career criminologist or aspiring to be as such, I envy that.
Just a lurker.
Yikes, another great post. I will finish reading it tomorrow, it’s getting late. Nice job again!
thank you for posting this.
i am waiting for the follow up article you mentioned at the end
I say "more, more, more". Please bring it on, and thank you.
In reply to this post by Podrido
Thank you all for your answers. I´ll try to finish the second report asap.
Podrido, answering your question yes, I do write this by myself. It´s a matter of time and patience searching several places and most of the times you always discover something. But sometimes contributions, advises and help of other users (such as MX) are invaluable in order to write the reports.
Cuidaos todos amigos/as
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