According to the Foreign Policy and the Observer Piece written by Emanuele Ottolenghi (FP) and Bridget Johnson (Observer)… Terror is in the West. Iran and Hezbollah have been generating a great influence in Latin America, with what can be seen as diplomatic gestures. In reality, Iran and Hezbollah are utilizing these foreign connections to strengthen their illegal activities. Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian prosecutor was murdered in 2015 during his attempt to expose the Iran connection between the “bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community center in Buenos Aires,” that occurred in 1994, Johnson states. This bombing killed 85 innocent people and when it came time for an investigation, former Argentine President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, decided to let the Islamic Republic investigate this crime on its own.
Johnson accuses Kirchner of being fully aware of the crime, stating that “Iran and its partners were behind the bombing.”But she signed off on the agreement anyway. Nisman began investigating the officials who signed the truth commission while Kirchner was busy firing the people involved in the investigation. The day Nisman was going to present his 288-page report to the federal judge charging those involved with an obstruction of justice and aggravated cover-up, he was found murdered with a shot to the head. Nisman’s report included findings discussing how “Argentia would profit from oil and grain deals while the Iranians wanted for the bombing would get off the Interpol Red Notice,” according to Johnson. And this is just the beginning.
Mark Dubowitz of Foundation for Defense of Democracies discusses this topic here. FDD’s Toby Dershowitz and Serena Frechter wrote in a policy brief that Hezbollah is currently on trial in Paris for their criminal activity in South America and the laundering of millions in euros in this area — similar to the situation between Hezbollah and the U.S.
It’s no secret that Latin America’s Triple Frontier (the border area shared by Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil) plays an important role in illicit activity. United States policymakers have neglected the Triple Frontier for over a decade, but recent federal investigations have brought to light multi-billion-dollar schemes run by Hezbollah. Earlier in the year, the Trump administration decided to pull away from the Iran nuclear deal and days after doing so, Washington “ramped up sanctions against Hezbollah,” Ottolenghi states. However, many are confused about where the U.S. stance and their policies currently lie. For example, the United States is against Hezbollah but supports “Lebanese State Institutions.” Because Lebanese State Institutions are run almost entirely by the Hezbollah, Ottolenghi believes that the “White House ends up undermining its own pursuit of the group’s illicit sources of finance.” This clear contradiction is being displayed in Paraguay now.
Ottolenghi states that there is evidence Hezbollah is “sending senior officials to the Triple Frontier to coordinate these activities” and that even “local operatives are involved in the local boom of cocaine trafficking.” While the U.S. Treasury was busy announcing the new Hezbollah sanctions, “Paraguayan authorities raided Unique SA, a currency exchange house”, Ottolenghi states. Farhat, the owner of this currency exchange house, was arrested for laundering $1.3 million in drug money. Farhat is said to be a member of the “Business Affairs Component”, Hezbollah’s External Security Organization. This organization is responsible for overseeing illicit finance and drug trafficking “overseas,” Ottolenghi explains .U.S. authorities are seeking to extradite Farhat, a sign that his actions have impacted the U.S. bank system. However, the Lebanese government is doing its best to prevent this from happening.
Hezbollah has chosen to push back by leveraging local influence through the Lebanese Embassy, Ottolenghi informs. Unfortunately, the Lebanese Embassy is considered a “state institution” one Washington looks forward to using as a “counterweight,” Ottolenghi explains. In May 2018, Hassan Hijazi, “the Lebanese charge d’affairs” in Asunción, sent a letter to Paraguay’s attorney general asking her to reject the request. Paraguayan authorities are apparently cooperative with the U.S., but they are also experiencing pressure from Lebanese Hezbollah.
An article in Foreign Policy states that for businesses like this to run smoothly, “such schemes rely on the complicity of local authorities, who rarely check incoming and outgoing merchandise that traverses the Triple Frontier weekly,” including through Ciudad Del Este’s Guaraní International Airport “by cargo plane from Dubai and the United States.” Just last year, Paraguay extradited a Lebanese drug trafficker to Miami who had ties to Hezbollah and was caught with shipping cocaine. Authorities found that in this case, the suspect was conspiring to ship “100 kilograms of cocaine a month to a Houston business associate by air cargo,” Ottolenghi states. Another similar case, also in Miami, had been investigated by the local FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, “mentions a weekly Miami-Ciudad Del Este cargo flight as the conduit for delivery of counterfeited electronics,” Ottolenghi continues. All at the same airport.
There is a fear that Farhat won’t be convicted if tried domestically, because of the history of “lost opportunities to go after Hezbollah in Paraguay.” Two Hezbollah criminals escaped a Paraguay penitentiary during a transfer between prisons last December. This, along with Asunción’s failure to enforce the “decade-old U.S. sanctions against Triple Frontier-based Hezbollah operatives, many of whom continue to live and trade on the Paraguayan side of the border” seems to lessen Ottolenghi’s confidence in them bringing these culprits to justice.
Ottolenghi believes the U.S. should send a clear message to Hezbollah, Hijazi, and Gebran Bassil- the Lebanese Foreign Minister. The message being: “You can get U.S. aid or you can do Hezbollah’s bidding. But you cannot do both at the same time and get away with it.” Ottolenghi also believes that the U.S. needs to give Paraguay some sort of reassurance, “ that punishing the envoy and extraditing the culprit is the right course of action.”
Ottolenghi knows that Washington will work with the Paraguayans to “bring Farhat to justice” and hopes that it inspires more dismantling of any other large schemes supporting Hezbollah’s finances in this particular region. In the end, Ottolenghi calls on Washington to recognize the Lebanese institutions as enablers, not counterweights.
Johnson, B. (2017, December 26). Western Shame: Tolerating Terrorists for Political Expediency. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://observer.com/2017/12/what-iran-and-hezbollah-want-with-latin-america/
Ottolenghi, E. (2018, June 15). Lebanon Is Protecting Hezbollah’s Cocaine Trade in Latin America. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/lebanon-is-protecting-hezbollahs-cocaine-and-cash-trade-in-latin-america/