A Lebanese and Belgian citizen considered a key financier of the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah was arrested Friday in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, and is to be extradited to the US, federal authorities said.
Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, 58, who was labeled a “global terrorist” by the United States in 2018 when $10 million was offered for information about his whereabouts, has funneled millions of dollars to Hezbollah over the years, authorities said.
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US Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn said the extradition of Bazzi and Lebanese citizen Talal Chahine, 78, was sought on charges contained in an indictment returned last month in Brooklyn federal court.
“As alleged, Mohammad Bazzi thought that he could secretly move hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States to Lebanon without detection by law enforcement. Today’s arrest proves that Bazzi was wrong,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Our office is committed to ensuring that sanctions imposed by the US government are respected and that terrorism financiers are starved of funds.”
Romanian law enforcement authorities took Bazzi into custody after he arrived in Bucharest on Friday, according to the release announcing his arrest.
DEA Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Kafafian added: “The defendants in this case attempted to provide continued financial assistance to Hizballah, a foreign terrorist organization responsible for death and destruction.”
“The men and women of DEA are committed to working with our law enforcement and foreign counterparts to disrupt and dismantle the operations of these organizations and those who choose to support them financially.”
In May 2018, the United States Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Bazzi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for assisting in, sponsoring, and providing financial, material, and technological support and financial services to Hezbollah.
According to the OFAC designation, Bazzi is a key Hezbollah financier who has provided millions of dollars to Hezbollah over the years, generated from his business activities in Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq and throughout West Africa.
As a result of the designation, all US persons were generally prohibited from transacting business with, or for the benefit of, Bazzi.
As alleged, following Bazzi’s designation, Bazzi and Chahine conspired to force or induce an individual located in the United States to liquidate their interests in certain real estate assets located in Michigan and covertly transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds of the liquidation out of the United States to Bazzi and Chahine in Lebanon.
During recorded communications, Bazzi and Chahine proposed numerous methods to conceal from OFAC and law enforcement officials that Bazzi was both the source and destination of the proceeds of the sale and to create the false appearance that their accomplice in the US was conducting legitimate arms-length transactions unrelated to Bazzi and Chahine.
For example, Bazzi and Chahine proposed that the funds be transferred through a third party in China as part of a fictitious purchase of restaurant equipment from a Chinese manufacturer and a third party in Lebanon as part of a fictitious real estate purchase.
They also attempted to funnel money via Chahine’s family members in Kuwait as part of fictitious intra-family loans and as part of a fictitious franchising agreement as payment for the rights to operate a Lebanese-based restaurant chain throughout the US.
The US intends to seek Bazzi’s extradition to the Eastern District of New York to face the charges in the indictment.
Each of the three counts in the indictment is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
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