After reviewing court documents, sanctions notices, drug seizures, police reports, and government statements, The National is now accusing Hezbollah of using France and other European countries as a headquarter for money-laundering operations and a lucrative market for its illegal enterprise.
According to The National, the FBI sting uncovered how the Lebanese group built a multilayered network in France to help keep its role alive in the drugs trade, as well as procuring weapons.
It all started when a woman from Lebanon named Iman Kobeissi offered her money-laundering services to a drug smuggler and DEA informant, who eventually gave all the information to the FBI.
According to court papers, her subsequent meetings with a DEA agent took her to New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, then to Paris with the likelihood of future meetings in Cyprus, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Iran’s Kish Island, all considered centers for organized crimes.
In late 2015, Kobeissi was coaxed to the United States and later on arrested, as she had accidentally handed over a detailed picture of the large network of criminal operations ranging across Europe, Africa, and South America allegedly run by Hezbollah.
Kobeissi ended up speaking of her co-workers in the Hezbollah group who wanted to purchase “cocaine” and “fireworks”, the group’s code for weapons and ammunition.
Joseph Asmar, a lawyer with high-level connections to banks throughout Europe and the Middle East, was allegedly Kobeissi’s accomplice.
He reportedly offered to manage and arrange planes filled with large amounts of shipments of cocaine to land in West Africa before being sent to Europe and the US.
Kobeissi also spilled inside secrets on Hezbollah, mentioning that the group shipped aircraft parts to Iran in a “secret sanctions-busting operation”.
She also handed over a shopping list for an Iran-based customer that included more than 1,000 assault rifles.
Once caught, Kobeissi and Asmar were both arrested in Paris. Later on, they were extradited to the US and convicted.
According to Matthew Levitt, a Hezbollah expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that investigation blew the doors open in terms of giving authorities insight into the depth and extent of the activities happening through Paris and France.
“The fact that these two based in Paris are running these activities all over the place is quite telling,” Levitt noted. “Some of Hezbollah’s most important illicit finance activities, and certainly the most important ones in Europe right now, are happening in Paris and Brussels,” he added.
According to The National, Asmar was released in January 2018 and Kobeissi in September of last year. Experts clarify that early release typically points to a deal for shorter sentences in return for information.
However, after US senior leaders resigned from major roles, the administration’s focus changed. Key intelligence obtained during years of high-level cross-agency operations pursuing Hezbollah went down the drain.
In that regard, David Asher, who advised the US government on pursuing Hezbollah’s finances under the administrations of George Bush and Barack Obama, told a US congressional committee:
“Frankly, it was a mix of tragedy and travesty combined with a seriously misguided turn of policy that resulted in no real strategic gain and a serious miscarriage of justice.”
According to experts, Hezbollah operates a business model thriving off of crime, with the help from Lebanese in the diaspora, and official business activities, as well as back up from Tehran.
In June, Italian police captured 14 tons of amphetamine pills estimated to be worth around €1 billion, hidden inside rolls of paper at the port of Salerno on the country’s west coast.
Initially, the blame fell on ISIS, but authorities had their eyes on the Iran-backed Lebanese group all along.
Eventually, the drugs were traced back to a district in Syria that is under the control of the Assad government. The area is known as the “Hezbollah smuggling center”, according to The National.
Intelligence analysts believe that Hezbollah’s criminal operations are now international, as reports keep proving how they’re operating one of the world’s largest drug-smuggling operations to support their growing foreign overseas program.
According to The National, the operation’s expansion can be prominently witnessed in Europe and South America.
“They are prepared to work with virtually anyone to achieve their goals,” a research analyst at the US-based group United Against Nuclear Iran, David Daoud, who tracks Hezbollah activity, told The National.