17 Oct 2019
Understanding why Hezbollah has deep roots in the drug trade requires a historical view of Lebanon. Businessmen from the area of the world now known as Lebanon have been superior merchants for thousands of years. From the time that the Canaanites and Phoenicians controlled this region in 1550 BC, they were a step ahead of the rest of the business world. As time progressed and many of the Lebanese people migrated to Latin America, they took control of many of the businesses that operated in the free trade zones in the Western Hemisphere. For many decades, the free trade zones of Colon, the Tri-Border-Area (the region where the borders of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet), Maicao in Colombia, and many other strategic zones have been dominated by businessmen of Lebanese descent.
Free trade zones around the world are hot beds of trade-based money laundering. This is a fact borne out by thousands of cases over the past several decades, and the dominance of Lebanese businessmen in these regions is supported by the fact that there are more than 10 million people of Lebanese descent that now call Latin America their current home.
Lebanese Muslims are predominately from Shiite communities whose religious and educational structures are managed by Hezbollah. Hezbollah often leverages loyalty by soliciting funds and the use of businesses to facilitate Hezbollah activities. So, when the Colombian cartels developed their trafficking of massive quantities of drugs to Europe, it was no surprise that they began their movement of illicit drug shipments from Venezuela. They did that because, for many decades, especially while Venezuela was led by the Chavez and Maduro administrations, Venezuela has been closely aligned both ideologically and economically with nations in the Middle East and Africa that are heavily influenced by Hezbollah (Lebanon, Iran, Syria and most French speaking African nations).
The heavy trade and ideological ties of Venezuela with Hezbollah influenced countries provided the cartels with the best cover for trade based smuggling activities – drugs out of Latin America and money back to Latin America. This led to the French speaking countries of West Africa becoming the major transshipment point for the cartels and their gateway to the Middle East and Europe.
Due to massive corruption in Venezuela, that country has become a safe haven for Colombian terrorist groups, including FARC and the ELN, as well as many cartel leaders attempting to avoid prosecution in Colombia. It wasn’t a surprise to me that, near the end of my career with DEA, my colleagues and I constantly saw private aircraft sold in the U.S. to Colombian buyers being initially flown to Venezuela, where no Western law enforcement was allowed to actively address corruption. There, in Venezuela, the planes were meticulously examined to make sure there were no tracking devices planted on them. When that was confirmed, they were flown on to Colombia to become part of the cartel’s air force moving drugs and money globally.
The well documented corruption within Venezuela’s elected officials, military leaders, intelligence community members, and law enforcement leaders is overwhelming. To name a few:
- Their former Interior Minister and 9 former Generals were identified as paid resources of Colombian cartels by the exiled Venezuelan Drug Czar.
- The former head of Venezuelan Military Intelligence was indicted in NY & Miami for trafficking.
- The Commander of the Venezuelan National Guard was indicted in NY for his role with cartels.
- A former Venezuelan Anti-Drug Unit official was indicted in NY for his role with cartels.
- The nephews of the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were charged in NY with conspiracy to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine into the U.S.
- The Head of Police Intelligence fled Venezuela in 2019 and provided details to U.S. law enforcement about Maduro leading a criminal enterprise that permits Hezbollah cells to work within Venezuela with drug cartels. He provided details about how cases against narco-traffickers were squashed, confirmed the participation of government officials in drug trafficking, and exposed how the Venezuelan government is protecting members of Colombian guerrilla groups.
About 8 years ago, through the prosecution of the Ayman Joumaa organization, undeniable evidence first surfaced confirming the alliance established between Colombian drug cartels, Mexican drug cartels and Hezbollah. This case documented the movement of 300 tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Europe with the help of Joumaa and other Hezbollah loyalists. It also documented the laundering of $1/2 billion in drug proceeds. In the Joumaa matter, according to Lebanese authorities, weekly flights by Iranian airlines transported large shipments of cocaine from Caracas to Damascus. Those drugs were later moved from Syria to Lebanon and then on to Europe with the aid of Hezbollah operatives. Proceeds from the Joumaa organization were specifically traced to Hezbollah’s “Unit 1,800”, a group that coordinates attacks in Israel.
Many similar cases have surfaced since the Joumaa matter, along with additional cases that have documented Colombian and Mexican cartels working with members of Al-Qaida and ISIS that have used their drug related proceeds to finance terrorist activities. The moral of this story is that, despite the horrific impact of global drug trafficking that we’ve faced over the past several decades, that cash-cow of the underworld has now given rise to an alliance with terrorist organizations, an unfortunate truth that makes the job of law enforcement and compliance professionals more important than ever.
I was recently interviewed on these topics by a U.S. radio station and want to share that interview with you. Please never forget the importance of your mission and how your service to the cause makes a difference:
Robert Mazur is president of KYC Solutions, Inc. and The New York Times bestselling author of ‘The Infiltrator,” a memoir of his life undercover as a money launderer.
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