WASHINGTON, D.C. — Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is generating hundreds of millions from a “cocaine money laundering scheme” in Latin America that “provides a never-ending source of funding” for its terrorist operations, a former DEA operations chief recently told U.S. lawmakers.
The official comments came nearly a week after the U.S. State Department reported that Latin America and the Caribbean “served as areas of financial and ideological support” for the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), Shiite Hezbollah, and other Islamic terrorist groups from the Middle East and South Asia.
Michael Braun, the former federal law enforcement official, was one of three terror financing experts who told the House Financial Services Committee on June 8 that Hezbollah’s narco-terrorism operations in the Latin American region were flourishing.
“The global drug trade generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year in contraband revenue for Hezbollah and it provides a never-ending source of funding for their war chest,” he testified in his prepared remarks. “Hezbollah uses cocaine, other drugs and other contraband as an alternative form of currency. And they have used drugs as payment for information and to successfully corrupt Israeli Defense Force personnel, as well as soldiers in other militaries.”
A recent DEA investigation revealed that the Lebanese-Canadian Bank alone was “facilitating a [Hezbollah] cocaine money laundering scheme involving as much as $200 million per month,” added Braun, who now serves as the managing partner of the government contractor SGI Global that he co-founded.
The international relationships established by Hezbollah, which has been linked to Colombian and Mexican drug cartels trafficking to Europe and laundering money through Lebanon, would make other major Islamic terrorist groups jealous, suggested the narco-terrorism expert.
Hezbollah evidence that has already been subjected to the judicial test in U.S. federal courts shows that the Shiite terrorist group has smuggled “hundreds of tons of cocaine from the Andean Region of South America into Venezuela where they then ship the drugs to emerging European markets via West and North Africa.”
The recent State Department report noted that Venezuela’s “permissive environment” has allowed Hezbollah to thrive in the region.
Braun described the Shiite group as “the most sophisticated drug trafficking, criminal and terrorist organizations we have ever faced,” adding that the organization has “metastasized into a hydra with international connections that the likes of [the Islamic State] and groups like al-Qaeda could only hope to have.”
Hezbollah has also been linked to networks in the Western Hemisphere that support the trafficking of wildlife, bulk cash, weapons, humans, and are involved in illegal logging and mining.
U.S. military officials have told Breitbart News that Iran proxies Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are recruiting in the Latin America region.
Both Shiite and Sunni Islamic extremists are radicalizing recent converts and other Muslims in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. military has reported, adding that Islamic terrorist groups, such as ISIS, could exploit Latin American trafficking networks to infiltrate the United States.
“Adding to concerns about security threats from Central and South America, intelligence reports have also tracked how smugglers managed to sneak illegal immigrants from the Middle Eastern and South Asia straight to the doorstep of the U.S. — including helping one [Taliban-linked] Afghan who U.S. authorities say was part of an attack plot in North America,” reports the Washington Times.
Hezbollah is reportedly using the proceeds from its illicit activities in Latin America to purchase weapons and finance the group’s terrorist operations in Syria, where it is fighting on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The Iran-allied Shiite organization has been described as the most prominent Islamic terrorist group in Latin America.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow on Iran and illicit finance with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who testified alongside Braun, told lawmakers that Hezbollah has developed a “vast network of support” in the region, namely in Brazil where an estimated 7 million people of Lebanese descent reside, including about 1 million who follow Shiite branch of Islam.
Mr. Ottolenghi declared:
Hezbollah generates loyalty among the local Shiite communities by managing their religious and educational structures. It then leverages loyalty to solicit funds and use business connections to its own advantage, including, critically, to facilitate its interactions with organized crime.