* Money originated in Beirut, smuggled back by Hezbollah
* Bank merged with Lebanese unit of Societe Generale
By Basil Katz
NEW YORK, Aug 20 U.S. authorities said on Monday
that they had seized $150 million from a Lebanese bank suspected
of being at the heart of international money-laundering schemes
linked to the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah.
In February 2011, the U.S. Treasury department designated
the Lebanese Canadian Bank as a "primary money-laundering
concern." The privately owned bank was subsequently merged with
the Lebanese subsidiary of Societe Generale.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration accused bank officials of knowingly
participating in a scheme in which money from various
individuals and companies in Beirut was sent from Lebanon to
purchase used cars in the United States. The cars were then sold
in West Africa, and Hezbollah-linked groups would help smuggle
the proceeds into Lebanon, authorities said.
Hezbollah is a Shi'ite Islamist guerrilla and political
movement founded with Iran's help after the Israeli invasion of
Lebanon in 1982.
Washington considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist group.
U.S. officials say that it has become increasingly involved in
the drug trade, facilitating the distribution and sale of
cocaine in West Africa.
The money seized was held in corresponding accounts at five
different banks in the United States, including Citibank
and London-based bank Standard Chartered. The five
banks have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
An attorney for the Lebanese Canadian Bank did not
immediately return a call seeking comment.