DEA Links Drug Money to Terrorist Funding

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In two news releases this month, the DEA laid bare the behind-the-scenes financing of international drug smuggling and the link to terrorism. The case involves a Lebanese man who acted as the financier and link between Columbian and Mexican drug cartels.

The first story came December 13th when the DEA announced the prosecution of Ayman Joumaa, (aka “Junior”), a 47 year old Lebanese national. He’s accused of operating a drug smuggling and money laundering network. The network ran drugs from Columbia into Mexico for the Los Zetas cartel. The cocaine went from there to the US and again, Junior’s network came into play to get the money out again. Junior was caught with five kilos of cocaine and faces life in prison for that.

But then, a couple of days later, the DEA added another set of charges. These are a combination of civil and criminal charges alleging that profits of the operation were laundered through Africa and then to Hizballah, a terrorist organization.

The way it worked was that cash, stuck in the US, was used to purchase large quantities of automobiles. These were then shipped to West Africa and sold. Now, the money was free to travel to Lebanon. The dollar amounts are unknown, but expected to be in the many millions of dollars. Junior was making 8 to 14% commission. The civil suit is going after $483 million, but this is probably not the entire pie.

These new charges allow the DEA to seize or freeze any assets they can get jurisdiction over, an important weapon against such schemes. It also brings in mechanisms to identify commercial entities as aiding terrorist activities. One such is the Lebanese Canadian Bank, where some of the money passed through.

Drugs and money laundering are natural add-ons for criminal organizations. The profits are huge and they are already operating outside the law, so why not? It’s only because of current international efforts to find and follow the money that these networks come to light. Somewhere in the mix will be companies that operate legitimately otherwise – they are an essential link between the dirty and clean side of the ledgers.

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