By Omar Bah
At least 500 current and former honorary consuls have all over the world been indicted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and ProPublica for their involvement in crimes or embroiling in controversy.
According to the report, one of such alleged diplomats is Mohammed Bazzi, who was appointed honorary consul in Lebanon by former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh between 2005 and 2017.
Bazzi was found by a commission of enquiry to be close associate of the exiled former Gambian dictator.
In the investigations, Retired U.S Drug Enforcement Administration supervisory special agent Jack Kelly, who spent a decade investigating Hezbollah until his retirement in 2016 expressed worries that dangerous consuls go undetected. “What people actually do with that diplomatic immunity – most of the time we’ll never really know,” he said.
According to the report, some of the consuls were convicted of serious offenses or caught exploiting their status for personal gain; others drew criticism for their support of authoritarian regimes.
The report stated that Kelly knew very little about honorary consuls in late 2008, when numbers on a cellphone being tracked by the US government led him to an elusive Lebanese businessman (Bazzi) who would quickly become a top DEA target.
According to the report, Kelly was helping to lead a federal operation known as Project Cassandra, established to dismantle Hezbollah’s sprawling criminal empire. “From a cubicle in a secret government facility in Chantilly, Virginia, Kelly had studied contacts on a phone used by a Hezbollah envoy suspected of helping to advance Iran’s secret nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Kelly eventually settled on a single phone number in Lebanon and the number was for Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi,” the report added.
According to the report, though Bazzi was never criminally prosecuted in the United States, he was designated a Hezbollah financier and sanctioned in 2018. His son was sanctioned one year later for allegedly working on his father’s behalf.
An attorney for Bazzi declined to respond to questions. Bazzi’s son, Wael, could not be reached for comment. In 2019, the men separately sued the US government, seeking to overturn the US sanctions. In court records, the elder Bazzi said the government exaggerated transactions and events that had occurred years earlier and failed to provide evidence that he financed Hezbollah.
Sourced from ICIJ