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U.S. Says Banks Launder Millions for Hizballah

MANHATTAN (CN) - Federal prosecutors accuse the Lebanese Canadian Bank and other Lebanese companies of laundering money for Hizballah, and demand nearly half a billion dollars in forfeitures and penalties.

The 65-page complaint stems from a DEA investigation of the laundering of drug money. Prosecutors say the drug money is spent on used cars in the United States.

"As part of the scheme, funds are transferred from Lebanon to the United States in order to purchase used cars, which are then shipped to West Africa and sold for cash. Cash proceeds of these car sales are then transferred, along with the proceeds of narcotics trafficking and other crimes, to Lebanon. The cash is often moved through bulk cash smuggling," according to the complaint.

It continues: "Hizballah members and supporters are involved at various points in the money laundering scheme. Hizballah members and supporters facilitate the smuggling of cash, including proceeds from the sale of used cars exported from the United States and narcotics proceeds, from West Africa to Lebanon; and finance and facilitate the purchase of some of the used cars in the united States. Because Hizballah is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, a Specially Designated Terrorist, and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist ... the money launders scheme also involved violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 ('IEEPA'), codified at Title 50, United States Code, Sections 1701-1705."

Prosecutors say, "Lebanese financial institutions and exchange houses play a key role in these money laundering channels."

Named as defendants are Lebanese Canadian Bank SAL; Ellissa Holding Co.; Hassan Ayash Exchange Co.; Cybamar Swiss GmbH LLC; STE Nomeco SarL; STE Marco SarL; and The Salhab Travel Agency.The United States seeks all of the defendants' assets, and the assets of about 30 U.S. car buyers, plus money laundering penalties of $483,142,568.

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