U.S. imposes sanctions over Hezbollah links

AFP-JIJI

The United States designated two Lebanese foreign-exchange firms as significant money launderers Tuesday, saying they moved money for drug traffickers and benefited the Hezbollah militia.

The U.S. Treasury named Kassem Rmeiti & Co. For Exchange and Halawi Exchange Co. for sanctions that freeze any assets they have on U.S. soil and ban Americans and U.S. businesses from any transactions with them.

It said both had been used to move money by the Ayman Joumaa narcotics network, a primary target in recent years of U.S. law enforcement, since the Treasury cracked down on the Lebanese Canadian Bank in 2011 for alleged money laundering.

After sanctions deprived the Lebanese Canadian Bank of access to key parts of the global financial system, the Treasury said, the Joumaa group used Kassem Rmeiti and Halawi to move its money, including passing millions through other banks into the United States to buy used cars, which are then exported to West Africa.

Both were linked to Benin-based money launderers and drug groups, according to the Treasury. Both were also tied by the Treasury to money transfers for Hezbollah or officials of Hezbollah, which Washington has designated a terrorist group.