BANKING ON HEZBOLLAH
In October 2018, United States President Donald Trump finally did what his nation had been promising for years. He signed new and tougher sanctions targeting the Iranian-funded militant group and Lebanese political party known as Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States.
“Over the past year we have levied the highest sanctions ever imposed on Hezbollah... Just a few moments ago, I signed legislation imposing even more hard-hitting sanctions on Hezbollah to further starve them of their funds. And they are starving for them,” said Trump,547 during an event marking the 35th anniversary of a devastating terror attack on United States Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American and 58 French military personnel, as well as six civilians.548
The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act549 ramped up reporting requirements and placed tighter financial and economic sanctions on the group. A White House spokesman commented that the legislation, “will further isolate Hezbollah from the international financial system and reduce its funding” and “target foreign persons and government agencies that knowingly assist or support” the group.550
For three decades, Hezbollah had maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border,551 trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across the Jewish state.552
For Lebanon, the group is a cancer. Hezbollah maintains an independent security apparatus, political organisation and social services network, where the group is often described as a ‘state within the state’.553
In its infancy, the movement obtained critical financial support and training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts – often having nothing to do with Israel – flaring up around the region, Hezbollah has morphed, too.
It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria.554 It has sent trainers to Iraq.555 It has backed rebels in Yemen.556 And it has helped organise a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere.557
As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran. Hezbollah is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Tehran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda.
Founded with Iranian guidance in the 1980s as a resistance force against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon,558 Hezbollah became the prototype for the kind of militias Iran is now backing elsewhere around the region. Hezbollah has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias.
The United States Department of State first designated Hezbollah a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in October 1997,559 and believes the group operates terrorist cells in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.560 Its activities at home include the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri561 and the aforementioned 1983 suicide attacks on United States facilities in Beirut.562
Over time the group’s activities and reach have expanded to include, among others, the 1985 hijacking of Trans World Airlines flight 847,563 1992 car bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires,564 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina,565 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia566 and 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.567
In 2010, the Obama administration described Hezbollah as ‘the most technically capable terrorist group in the world’.568
“It is our pride that the Great Satan (the United States) and the head of despotism, corruption and arrogance in modern times considers us as an enemy that should be in the terrorism list,” said Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of the group.569
Hezbollah is a bastard child of the Iranian Revolution, in the context of Tehran’s clericalism and their attempt to export the revolution. Former Iranian ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, stated: “Hezbollah, Hamas, and the (Islamic) Jihad are the legitimate sons of the Iranian revolution”.570
Western diplomats and Lebanese analysts estimated Iran’s annual financial support of Hezbollah sat between $60 and $100 million571 by the millennium. Yet this rose markedly in successive years and jumped to approximately a quarter of a billion dollars at the time of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War.572
In January 2008, Waleed Fares, director of the Project of the Future of Terrorism of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, stated that Iranian support to Hezbollah had risen to around $1 billion a year.573 Numerous reports show that Iranian financial support of Hezbollah reached upwards of $800 million574,575 between 2012 and 2016, as a result of the involvement of Hezbollah in Syria’s civil war, coupled with a tightening of the alliance between Tehran and the group.
Neither has the ‘Party of God’ done itself any harm in its business dealings, nefarious or otherwise. Its commercial activities in Lebanon thrive, including land dealings and a wide property portfolio. Hezbollah’s investments extend to Tehran, Damascus and points in between,576 anywhere beyond the reach of potential United States and European law enforcement.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Dr. Matthew Levitt told United States Senate Committee that Hezbollah engages in a “wide variety of criminal enterprises” worldwide in order to raise funds.577
Evidence abounds from across the world. From the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia578 and its heroin production, to cocaine smuggling in Latin America,579 and even marijuana plantations and hashish production in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley,580 Nasrallah’s religious piety does not extend too far when a fast buck is within reach.
The link between Nasrallah and Yerevan’s leaders was forged on the anvil of Hezbollah’s domestic emergence. Part of this has been an ongoing political cooperation between Hezbollah and the Armenian community. An example of this was reported in 2009 when The New York Times stated: the main Armenian political bloc decided to support Hezbollah’s alliance in the coming parliamentary elections in Lebanon against the pro-American parliamentary majority. Because of their role as a crucial swing vote, the Armenians could end up deciding who wins and who loses in what is often described as a proxy battle between Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, and the West.
That fact has brought new attention to the Armenians, a distinct and borderless ethnic group that is spread throughout the region much as the Jews once were. In Lebanon, they have their own schools, hospitals and newspapers. They speak their own language, with its own alphabet. Their main political party, Tashnaq, operates in 35 countries and has a secretive world committee that meets four times a year.581
Ethnic Armenian member of the Lebanese Parliament Hagop Pakradounian (on the photo, right). told the BBC that: “...it’s Hezbollah that makes us feel safe.”582
There were also operational relationships in play. In a February 2005 report, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted that: Syria and Lebanon host the greatest concentration of terrorist training camps, with Iran a close second. Camps for Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command dot the Syrian and Lebanese landscapes, where Hezbollah and Iranian trainers have schooled a motley crew of Palestinian, Kurdish, Armenian and other recruits in a variety of terrorist and intelligence tactics.583
The links that bound Hezbollah and Armenia were there, but it would be through a financial institution that served as a primary front for the ‘Party of God’ that they become really apparent.
Hezbollah was now a commercial enterprise. As it sought to manage the mounting flows of cash, legitimate or otherwise, generated through its growing multinational enterprises, the group had turned to the banking sector to provide support.
The Lebanese Canadian Bank had been established in 1960 as Banque des Activities Economiques SAL and operated as a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada Middle East until 1988, when it became privately owned.584 The rise of Lebanese Canadian began in the early 1990s and would continue until 2011, when it was struck by United States charges that it had become a financial kingpin for Hezbollah, supporting terrorism finance and money laundering, effectively serving as a finance department of the group.
According to a United States Treasury paper titled ‘Background on LCB’, published on February 10th, 2011, and carried on the Treasury’s website, Lebanese Canadian’s total assets were worth more than $5 billion.585
This was no small time enterprise. In May 2018, The National wrote of: the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank, what was once one of Beirut’s major financial institutions folded and later forfeited $102 million in assets after it was blacklisted by United States authorities for its part in what the United States said was a vast Hezbollah money laundering network.
The investigation offered a rare glimpse into a secretive network linking Colombian cocaine cartels, West African conflict diamonds and North American used car lots through which Hezbollah-linked Lebanese businessmen and worked around sanctions to bring assets from the underworld sources into legitimate global financial systems...
...nearly 200 accounts were involved in the money laundering scheme, at the centre of which was Hezbollah.586
The ties that bind Armenia and Lebanon are deep. Armenians have lived in the country for centuries and there are reported to be well over 200,000 Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent,587 around 5% to 7% of the population, making it a thriving centre of Armenian culture.
Lebanese-Armenians have six guaranteed seats in the 128-seat Lebanese Parliament,588 while a stroll along Bourj Hammoud, a suburb in east Beirut’s Metn District, almost gives one the impression of being in Yerevan as it is so heavily populated by Armenians.
A modern familiarity between the two nations was sealed in 2000, when President Robert Kocharyan undertook a three-day state visit to Beirut. He was feted by President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Selim Hoss, House Speaker Nabih Berri and the Arab nation’s political and business elite.589
Kocharyan described Beirut as the “capital of the Armenian expatriate community” and stated his belief that Lebanon was Armenia’s gateway to the Arab world. Lahoud described his counterpart’s visit “as the embodiment of Lebanon’s strong ties with Armenia”, as they signed a swathe of bilateral agreements.590 Kocharyan was seeking to ferment newer and closer political and economic ties with Lebanon during his official visit for his nation.
Yet that would not be to say that some financial ties were not already in the ascendancy. This story leads back to the tale of the Lebanese Canadian Bank.
In Yerevan’s Republic Square, the Presidential Palace and Prime Minister’s Residence, not to mention Government House, stand at an intersection of bribery, kleptocracy and money laundering.
From the British Embassy, yards away from the Presidential Residence (and over the road from the famed Charlotte Cabaret), one former British diplomat told this writer that there was a “constant stream of black, high performance cars, disgorging a constant stream of serious looking men in smart black suits, wearing sharp black sunglasses. They weren’t politicians, but one could recognise them as the city’s ‘businessmen’, many drawn from the dark underbelly that was forming around that centre of power.”
Indeed, business was good. The nation’s commercial life had been divided up between various competing factions in order to render them pliable and guarantee acquiescence. The treasury was little more than a personal fiefdom of those holding power. Juicy government contracts had been channelled to friends and family of those connected to the very top.
Aside from the bounty that a small nation can provide, there was the not so inconsequential matter of Nagorno-Karabakh. The territory’s gold mines and other natural assets were disgorging their long-concealed treasure. Add into the mix the trade in illegal arms, drugs and human trafficking, all cash generating businesses, then one can see how this could be an issue.
The sums involved were proving a headache. The International Monetary Fund agrees and says: Armenia appears to be more vulnerable to the “integration” stage of money laundering, because of the highly cash-based economy, the significant volume of remittances from abroad, the relevant level of proceed-generating crime...591
As late as July 2018, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism – MONEYVAL – continued to send warning signals over Armenia. That month MONEYVAL issued its follow-up report on Armenia titled ‘Anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing measures’. This highlight’s Yerevan’s ‘technical compliance deficiencies’, ‘insufficient consideration was given to certain threats and vulnerabilities’ and ‘money laundering threats and trends; latent criminality; shadow economy and cash circulation; as well as corruption... representatives of the private sector and a large number of authorities, including self-regulatory organisations, were involved.’592
There is a patchwork of laws around the world intended to stop dirty money from entering the banking system, but illicit funds are still able to flow freely and unimpeded through gaping legal loopholes. Stefanie Ostfeld, a policy advisor with Global Witness, notes: ‘...the extent to which this plundering is aided by lax and weakly-enforced money laundering laws in the West has too often escaped notice...’593
The easiest way to take advantage of these gaps is to move money quietly into friendly semi-legitimate banks, which then run a cleaning process through a network of offshore jurisdictions like Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, into anonymous shell companies, and then through investments fronted by trusted associates.
As Clive Scott, a legal advisor for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime complains of the investigative process: “Every time money is transferred, it takes ten minutes. The funds are in another jurisdiction. Then it takes three to six months to complete a request for mutual legal assistance.”
In Beirut, the authorities, and all those involved in the Lebanese Canadian debacle, are today understandably keen that this particular troubling chapter remains closed. So they may. At the height of the scandal, the might of Barack Obama’s administration was unleashed upon them as Washington sought to claw at Hezbollah.
That sorry affair has, understandably, been swept under the carpet.
Lebanon marked 75 years of independence in November 2018, to a backdrop of economic problems and deepening political stalemate. More than six months since parliamentary elections, Prime Minister-designate Saad Al Hariri has stalled in his efforts to form a representative government – Hezbollah’s demands for representation proving the biggest problem – something that is urgently needed in order to reform the budget and manage the country’s huge debt burden.594
Balancing the needs of the country’s most influential stakeholder, Hezbollah, and keeping a bombastic Nasrallah happy, while at the same time maintaining a tetchy status quo with the United States, is proving difficult.
Hezbollah’s creeping influence has made Lebanon little more than its puppet state. No one wishes to antagonise anyone over any one of the numerous scandals that have dogged Lebanon over previous years, least of all the damaging Lebanese Canadian affair.
Our investigations into Yerevan’s involvement in the Lebanese Canadian affair throws up one name repeatedly. Ayman Joumaa.
Credit Suisse’s yearly report on Global Wealth states that Lebanon’s wealth imbalance is among the worst in the world. Just 0.3% of Lebanese own 50% of Lebanon.595 Sitting alongside Nasrallah and his irascible crew at Hezbollah, is a flagitious political class that has set out to accumulate all the most valuable parts of the economy under its control with all the zest of their counterparts in Yerevan.
Yet even Global Wealth cannot account for those who operate outside of the margins. Joumaa is one of those.596
Born in 1964 to decidedly working class parents, Joumaa had worked his way out of the trap of his birth through sheer thuggery. He had several spurious acquittals for crimes such as murder, rape, racketeering and violence to his name before he even moved on to the big time.
With a Colombian dual citizenship secured, Joumaa built one of the most successful crime networks ever to grow out of Lebanon. In Beirut it included a hotel and a currency exchange business, both of which gave him scope to clean cash from a growing drugs empire.
His ties grew to include front companies in Colombia, Panama, Benin and the Republic of Congo. This author visited Pointe-Noire, a port city that dominates trade and commerce in the Republic of Congo.
The Societe Ellissa Group (SEG) was a thriving business at the time.597 Yet no one in Congo knew why, or what the company did. SEG’s logo, with its prominent sail, and high profile location of the company’s offices in Pointe-Noire, suggested shipping.
What they were shipping was another matter altogether.
Joumaa and his network of front companies, his ability to stay ahead, and above, the law, and his contacts with some of the lushest drug growing and producing regions of the world would earn him the tag of ‘Drug Kingpin’.598
Yet there was more to him than greasing the wheels of the world’s drug markets.
He was also involved with two brothers in a thriving exchange company headquartered along Madame Curie Street in Beirut, along with a network that stretched between the Middle East, Africa and South America via his Ellissa Holdings, with a trail of corrupt officials hanging in between.
According to some published accounts, Joumaa’s empire was generating some $200 million per month599 at its zenith. In a February 2018 exposé, the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists referred to: Ayman Joumaa (on the photo, right), a Lebanese man accused in 2011 of laundering profits through exchange houses in Beirut and other locales in a scheme that generated roughly $200 million each month, and reportedly helped fund the militia.
Joumaa also laundered more than $850 million in drug profits.600
Laundering this cash, in addition to paying a host of very senior Lebanese politicians and law enforcement officers, was why he came to be involved with Lebanese Canadian.
This was a post-September 11 where the global money laundering landscape had begun to change. The Wilson Center notes that: ...there has been a greater appreciation of how “following the money trail” directly contributes to the fight against terrorism, crime and corruption around the world. Money serves as the oxygen for any activity, licit or illicit; it is the critical enabler for any organisation, from international crime syndicates like the Mexican cartels to terrorist groups like the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and Hezbollah.601
Amid this new reality, traditional tax havens were seeing greater controls and oversight. The likes of Cayman Islands, Bahamas and Jersey were increasingly mindful that sheltering dirty money was bad for their image and position in the world. Times were moving on. A veneer of respectability was required.
For years, however, Joumaa, Hezbollah and Lebanese Canadian circumvented this new reality. The scope of their success can be gauged from the United States Treasury Department’s dramatic February 10th, 2011 statement: The United States Department of the Treasury today announced the identification of The Lebanese Canadian Bank SAL together with its subsidiaries (LCB) as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Section 311) for the bank’s role in facilitating the money laundering activities of an international narcotics trafficking and money laundering network.
This network moves illegal drugs from South America to Europe and the Middle East via West Africa and launders hundreds of millions of dollars monthly through accounts held at Lebanese Canadian Bank, as well as through trade- based money laundering involving consumer goods throughout the world...602
In September 2018, a former senior manager of Lebanese Canadian, who worked at branches on Elias Sarkis Avenue and Hazmieh Boulevard, spoke to this author on condition of anonymity, citing fears that it would make him a target of either Joumaa or, worse, Hezbollah.
He was one tier down from the senior officers who ran the Lebanese Canadian operation from the top. However, as a branch manager, he was heavily involved in the cash that was being smuggled into Lebanon.
He states: “How it took the United States so long to connect the dots continues to be a mystery. I worked as a branch manager, but it was clear what was happening. Crates of cash, in many currencies, were arriving at Port of Beirut and being spirited dockside to various branches and accompanied by handlers who were armed, and made it clear they were. Nothing was recorded electronically. It was all on paper. Off the books.”
At the outset this had nothing at all to do with Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh. This was simply a description of the operation that was now emerging at Lebanese Canadian.
So effective was this laundering operation that Joumaa and Lebanese Canadian were sucked into the lucrative business. Hezbollah, the Party of God, was only too happy to take their 3.25% commission. Says The Washington Institute: Hezbollah operatives run one of the largest and most sophisticated global criminal operations in the world. In its 2013 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment report, Europol identified several ‘crime enablers’. These included ‘logistical hotspots, diaspora communities, corruption, and the use of legal business structures, cross-border opportunities, identity theft, document forgery, and violence.’ Hezbollah exploits all of these, not only in Europe, but worldwide.603
This growing operation was about to spread to the Caucasus.
Sometime in 1999, a Panamanian national travelling on a passport that showed him named as Gassan Saief slipped through Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan. Gassan Saief was in fact Akram Joumaa, an uncle and front man for Ayman Joumaa, whose list of crime activities pop up as far afield as Panama and Colombia, according to United States Government investigations into transnational criminality. The services that Akram’s organisation could provide were well known and whose contacts in Yerevan were keen on a relationship that would link Stepanakert and Yerevan with Beirut.
“We knew Armenian Drams, of course. We had Armenian customers who changed money, banked it. There was crossover,” says the same former branch manager, at this time looking after the Hazmieh Boulevard branch, which was a key node in the Lebanese Canadian clearing operation.
He estimates that it was in early 2000 that they began to see the appearance of consignments that were clearly from Armenia.
“Then suitcases packed with cash began to come. People arrived in our clearing room at the back of the branch, straight from the airport. As far as I know they were waved through the airport and there was no question of any of the couriers being stopped.
“One million dollars in drams was easily shifted in every shipment. Our job was simply to count, and then pass details on to head office. One of the Joumaa exchange companies we dealt with would collect the cash later.”
By his estimates a courier arrived from Yerevan three or four times a week, carrying upwards of $1 million in currency. This generated some $30 million a month, which would flow into the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese Canadian system.
In doing so this would net Nasrallah and his widely proscribed terrorist group Hezbollah close to $1 million a month in commissions.
What happened next is best portrayed through the words of the same United States Treasury Department report, which stated: ...through management complicity, failure of internal controls, and lack of application of prudent banking standards – has been used extensively by persons associated with an international drug trafficking and money laundering network to move hundreds of millions of dollars monthly in cash proceeds from illicit drug sales into the formal financial system.
Lebanese Canadian Bank’s involvement in money laundering is also attributable to a failure to adequately control transactions that are highly vulnerable to criminal exploitation, including cash deposits and cross-border wire transfers; inadequate due diligence on high-risk customers including exchange houses; and, in some cases, complicity in the laundering activity by
Lebanese Canadian Bank managers. At least one of the individuals involved in this global drug trafficking and money laundering network has worked directly with Lebanese Canadian Bank managers to conduct his transactions.
Several individuals involved in this global drug trafficking and money laundering network hold or utilise cash deposit accounts at Lebanese Canadian Bank to move hundreds of millions of dollars monthly in cash proceeds from illicit drug sales into the formal financial system. They have also coordinated the laundering of these funds through key foreign nodes of the network using Lebanese Canadian Bank accounts.
“The Lebanese Canadian Bank for years has participated in a sophisticated money laundering scheme involving used cars purchased in the United States and consumer goods overseas. Thanks to Drug Enforcement Administration-led operations, as well as today’s Treasury action, we are exposing and disrupting this money laundering network and its connections to global drug trafficking and Hezbollah,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.
Drug Kingpin Ayman Joumaa and his Lebanon-based drug trafficking and money laundering network, along with several other individuals, have used Lebanese Canadian Bank to launder narcotics proceeds – as much as $200 million per month – as part of this international money laundering network. In this criminal scheme, the proceeds are laundered through various methods, including bulk cash smuggling operations and use of several Lebanese exchange houses that utilise accounts at Lebanese Canadian Bank branches.
On January 26th, Treasury designated Joumaa along with nine individuals and 19 entities in his network as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers...604
Across the world there were understandable shockwaves. The New York Times reported in December 2011: ...its ledgers have been opened to reveal deeper secrets: a glimpse at the clandestine methods that Hezbollah – a terrorist organisation in American eyes that has evolved into Lebanon’s pre-eminent military and political power – uses to finance its operations. The books offer evidence of an intricate global money laundering apparatus that, with the bank as its hub, appeared to let Hezbollah move huge sums of money into the legitimate financial system, despite sanctions aimed at cutting off its economic lifeblood. At the same time, the investigation that led the United States to the bank, the Lebanese Canadian Bank, provides new insights into the murky sources of Hezbollah’s money...
One agent involved in the investigation compared Hezbollah to the Mafia, saying “They operate like the Gambinos on steroids.”605
Lebanese Canadian would subsequently pay over $100 million in penalties to settle claims brought by United States authorities that it was involved in laundering drug money and funnelling funds to Hezbollah and other militant organisations.606 Deloitte and Touche, the bank’s main auditor from 1995, escaped reprimand despite a staggering and unbelievable failure in its mandated oversight.
Lebanese Canadian would be the most famous case to tie in Armenia and Lebanese crime interests since brothers Barkev and Jean Magharian were convicted for heading a $1.3 billion criminal scheme that would ultimately be called Switzerland’s largest money laundering scandal and worst political scandal.607
The optics of the United States stepping in to topple a corrupt financial institution in Lebanon, worse even, a criminal front for a Washington-nemesis and Beirut-powerbroker, were awful.
Worse still, in utilising Lebanese Canadian, a profit centre for Hezbollah, individuals in Yerevan have contributed to what stands as a huge geopolitical problem in the 21st century. In September 2018, Brookings published “Another war in Lebanon?”, which gave a troubling overview of the rise of Hezbollah, directly as a result of its support from Iran and its empire of illegal activities. The article spoke of contemporary issues, highlighting: ...“real potential” of a war between Israel and Hezbollah and that such a war could drag in Iran and other regional powers. Mara Karlin, a leading outside analyst, contends that war is “almost inevitable” and that the “real questions are how and where – not if – the impending conflagration will occur” ...
More than 10 years (after the 2006 war with Israel), Hezbollah’s military capabilities are even more formidable. It has over 100,000 rockets and missiles and can fire over 1,000 per day, targeting almost every major city in Israel. Hezbollah also manufactures weapons in Lebanon, producing drones and guided missiles, amongst other systems.
In the past, Hezbollah rockets had crude guidance systems and mostly landed on Israeli fields or other unpopulated parts of the country. Now, however, Hezbollah has systems, like the Fateh-110, that use advanced guidance systems. If another conflict were to break out, Israel would face the potential loss of power plants, its airport, key political and cultural sites, and other grave threats. Israel’s layered missile-defense and anti-rocket systems like Iron Dome and David’s Sling will offer some protection, but they would be tested by the scale and scope of Hezbollah’s arsenal.608
While international media coverage necessarily focused on Lebanese Canadian and Hezbollah, and the now ruined Ayman Joumaa, the scandal did raise further lines of enquiry. Although certainly not implicated in these particular events, there were other banking ties between Beirut and Yerevan. Byblos Bank had bought Armenia’s International Trade Bank in September 2007. Byblos Bank’s own website boasts that: The newly acquired bank began operations under the name of Byblos Bank Armenia in 2008.
Byblos Bank was the first Lebanese bank to operate in Armenia and provides both business and personal banking services. Byblos Bank Armenia capitalises on the need to serve the Armenian Diaspora, which is present in the United States, Europe, Lebanon, Syria, and other parts of the world.609
Byblos Bank, with its foot firmly planted in Yerevan, also has a function in supporting Hezbollah today. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted that: In a macabre twist on the telethon format perfected by United States charities, Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s official twenty-four-hour global television station, croons for cash during commercial breaks and informs viewers worldwide how to donate money to promote terrorism. Al-Manar has asked donors to make deposits into accounts in four Lebanese banks.610
Among those was Byblos Bank.
While Byblos Bank and Byblos Bank Armenia continue their activities until today, it is also worth noting that the ramifications from the Lebanese Canadian were never truly felt. The reasons behind why the Lebanese Canadian scandal was never fully explored were purely political.
In early 2018 Republicans in Congress criticised former President Barack Obama for allegedly stymieing his own Drug Enforcement Administration’s investigation. Project Cassandra was targeting Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking activities, but Obama killed the programme out of concern it would hamper United States efforts to negotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.611
On October 15th, 2018, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially designated Hezbollah as one of five groups considered to be the top transnational organised crime threats. This allowed President Trump to sign new and tougher sanctions against the organisation.612
If news of Hezbollah’s illicit activities came as a surprise to some, they certainly did not among some who had dominated the corridors of power in Yerevan.
For them, Nasrallah and Hezbollah have been useful business partners.
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