US slaps sanctions on Lebanese group helping finance Hezbollah

The sanctions are part of the US's "unprecedented campaign to prevent Hezbollah... from profiting off violence, corruption, and the drug trade," said Treasury undersecretary Sigal Mandelker.
Thursday 11/04/2019
Supporters of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group listen to a speech of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, via a video link, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 8, 2019. (AP)
Supporters of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group listen to a speech of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, via a video link, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 8, 2019. (AP)

WASHINGTON - US officials on Thursday announced it has sanctioned a Lebanese network accused of laundering millions of dollars for "drug kingpins" and helping finance Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shia movement that Washington labels a terrorist organisation.

The US Treasury Department said it has added Lebanese national Kassem Chams to its blacklist, along with two related entities: the "Chams Money Laundering Organization" and Chams Exchange, a money service business in Lebanon.

"Kassem Chams and his international money laundering network move tens of millions of dollars a month in illicit narcotics proceeds on behalf of drug kingpins and facilitate money movements for Hezbollah," Treasury said in a statement.

The Chams network moves money to and from multiple countries including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States and Venezuela, according to the department.

The sanctions are part of the administration's "unprecedented campaign to prevent Hezbollah and its global terror affiliates from profiting off violence, corruption, and the drug trade," Treasury undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said.

The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said Chams Exchange operates under license and supervision of the Central Bank of Lebanon (BdL) "despite US authorities long suspecting it" of significant money laundering.

Treasury said it remains committed to working with BdL "to eliminate access to the Lebanese financial system by narcotics traffickers, money launderers, and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah."

President Donald Trump's administration has accused Iran of taking provocative measures to destabilise the Middle East.

It has increased sanctions on the Islamic republic in order to undercut its revenues and to financially squeeze regional allies like the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Earlier this week Washington designated Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.

(Agence France-Presse)