Miami Banks Held Hezbollah Money For Colombian Drug Lords
Authorities arrested two men and named a third associated with Hezbollah wanted for cleaning up Colombian cocaine money in Miami banks.
Half a million in illicit cash found its way to Miami banks thanks to international money laundering that involved transactions around the world. Mohammad Ahmad Ammar, a resident of Medellin, Colombia, is the suspected top money man in the busted operation; he’s in a Miami-Dade County, Fla., jail as of last week.
Prosecutors are charging Ammar with state felony money laundering. Ghassan Diab and Hassan Mansour are the other two men. Diab is on the run in Nigeria or Lebanon; Mansour was arrested in Paris.
“Drug dealers, potential terrorists and money launderers should all get the message that Miami-Dade County is not the place to do your dirty business,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said, according to the Miami Herald, which broke the story. The South Florida Money-Laundering Strike Force — made up of both federal and state law enforcement — led the case, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Ammar was laundering cash for Colombian cartel “La Oficina de Envigado,” known as “La Oficina.” It was founded in the 1980s as Pablo Escobar’s go-to organization for hitmen. After Escobar’s death, the Medellin-based group managed much of what used to be the Colombian kingpin’s drug empire.
The incarcerated money man reportedly moved cash around in Spain, Australia, and elsewhere, which is why he now faces eight felony charges. Ammar’s father lives in Los Angeles and is reportedly known to also be a Hezbollah sympathizer. Ammar bragged during the investigation about his family’s links to the terrorist organization.
Ammar’s demise dates back to 2014 when he was approached by DEA informants who wanted him to launder $250,000 on two separate occasions. All of the money that Ammar handled was actually DEA cash and the accounts it went to were set up by federal authorities.
Miami and South Florida have long been a financial hub for illicit cash that is linked to Latin America. “These latest arrests highlight the reasons why the interaction between Latin American organized crime and global terror networks is a growing concern for US authorities,” according to InSight Crime, a foundation that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Evidence of the links between Hezbollah and Latin American criminal networks has been building for some years, and alleged Hezbollah operatives have been discovered across the region, from Mexico down to Brazil,” InSight Crime noted in its analysis of Ammar’s case. “Those arrested recently are almost all considered “associates” rather than active members of Hezbollah and most have been charged with crimes related to money laundering.”
Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist extremist terrorist organization founded in Lebanon. It receives extensive financial support from Iran. In spite of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the U.S. Department of State continues to list Iran as one of only three countries in the world – the other two being Syria and Sudan – that is a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Iran is in large part identified as a sponsor of terrorism by the State Department precisely because of support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.
Hezbollah sympathizers have long operated with impunity in the Tri-border Area (TBA) of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. The terrorist group “generates loyalty among local Shi’a communities by managing their religious and educational structures. It then leverages that loyalty to solicit funds to its own advantage – including, critically, to facilitate interactions with organized crime,” according to Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Senior Fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi, Ph.D.
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