The US Treasury Department yesterday sanctioned a top Hezbollah financier and the group’s representative to Iran, citing what the department describes as their links to a drug-trafficking ring and oil-sale contracts to The Gambia as multimillion-dollar funding channels for the Lebanese militia designated by the US as a terror organisation.
The leading US newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, last week reported: “The designation of Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi as one of Hezbollah’s top financiers and Abdallah Safi-Al-Din as the group’s representative to Tehran is part of a broader US campaign to target Iran and sideline its regional proxies threatening US interests and allies in the Middle East.
“US officials link the activities of the two directly to the head of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, who was blacklisted by the US and several Gulf nations on Wednesday for his role as the supreme commander of the group’s military and security operations around the world.
“The US contends Hezbollah’s chief is aware of all of its financing operations, including those run by Mr Safi-Al-Din, who is Mr Nasrallah’s cousin, and Mr Bazzi, an associate of the group’s leader. Mr Safi-Al-Din, Treasury said, has served as Hezbollah’s key interlocutor to Iran on financial issues, including working to bolster political and economic ties between The Gambia and Tehran.
“None of the three could immediately be reached for comment. A Hezbollah official declined to comment.
“This action highlights the duplicity and disgraceful conduct of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Despite Nasrallah’s claims, Hezbollah uses financiers like Bazzi who are tied to drug dealers, and who launder money to fund terrorism.”
“An official at Iran’s United Nations mission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The US says Mr Bazzi was able to win monopoly oil import contracts from The Gambia’s former dictator, Yahya Jammeh, who was sanctioned by the US last year for alleged gross human-rights abuses and pilfering state assets during his 22-year reign.
“Mr Bazzi, the Treasury said, used firms in Europe, Lebanon and Africa to sell the oil to The Gambia, sending proceeds back to Hezbollah. The US sanctioned those firms, including Belgium-based Global Trading Group NV and Lebanon-based Car Escort Services SAL Off Shore.
“Calls for comment to Global Trading Group weren’t immediately answered or returned. Car Escort Services couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“Hezbollah, a political and military force in Lebanon, is considered an overseas terror threat by the US, particularly for playing a role in the Syrian civil war supporting President Bashar al-Assad alongside Russia and Iran and as a proxy for Tehran’s sanctioned Quds Force, the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“The US is in part trying to discredit the group as a political organisation not only in its home country and the Middle East, but also in Europe, where some governments recognise its political activities as a separate, legitimate institution.”