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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chekry Harb of Hizbullah is Busted

COLOMBIA : US AND Colombian investigators have dismantled an international cocaine smuggling and money-laundering ring that allegedly used part of its profits to finance Hizbullah, the Lebanon-based Shia militia.
  • After a two-year investigation, authorities have arrested at least 36 suspects in recent days, including an accused Lebanese kingpin in Bogota, Chekry Harb, who acted as the hub of an unusual alliance between South American cocaine traffickers and Middle Eastern militants, Colombian investigators alleged.
Authorities accuse Mr Harb of being a "world-class money-launderer" whose ring washed hundreds of millions of dollars a year, from Panama to Hong Kong, while paying a percentage to Hizbullah.

  • Mr Harb was charged with drug-related crimes in a sealed indictment filed in Miami in July, but terror-related charges have not been filed.
  • The suspects allegedly worked with a Colombian cartel and a paramilitary group to smuggle cocaine to the US, Europe and the Middle East.
  • Mr Harb travelled to Lebanon, Syria and Egypt and was in phone contact with Hizbullah figures, according to Colombian officials.

"The profits from the sales of drugs went to finance Hizbullah," said Gladys Sanchez, lead investigator for the special prosecutor's office here. "This is an example of how narco-trafficking is a theme of interest to all criminal organizations, the FARC, the paramilitaries and terrorists."

FARC is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerrilla group that was alleged to have had links with the IRA.

Iran, a Hizbullah sponsor, and donations from the Lebanese diaspora are two sources for a multimillion-dollar budget that pays for the militia's armed and political wings and social projects such as hospitals in Beirut.

However, investigations have shown that Hizbullah also funds itself through:

  • drug dealing
  • arms trafficking
  • contraband smuggling
  • other rackets in the Americas, Africa and elsewhere.

Western anti-terror agents have expressed concern about signs of an increasing Hizbullah presence in South America.

  • In June, the US Treasury Department designated two Venezuelans of Lebanese descent, one a diplomat, as Hizbullah financiers and supporters.
  • The case began as a money-laundering investigation, but agents discovered the alleged links between Mr Harb and Hizbullah operatives as they followed the money.
  • Harb's group allegedly paid Hizbullah 12 per cent of its profits, investigators said, without giving a dollar figure.

- (LA Times, Washington Post Service)

The Rest @The Irish Times

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