Posts Tagged ‘Panama’

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No sanctions for Hezbollah’s Latin traffickers?

June 23, 2013

Ken Rijock insightfully points out what seems to be a bit of a double standard by the federal government—U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah agents in West Africa while Hezbollah agents in Venezuela are simply monitored quietly.  Some of the banks in Latin America don’t even know that they have Hezbollah customers because the operatives have not been named in public.  Shouldn’t the U.S. be a little more concerned about Hezbollah’s exploitation of New World neighbors?

US SANCTIONS HEZBOLLAH AGENTS IN AFRICA, BUT IGNORES THOSE IN LATIN AMERICA THAT POSE A GREATER THREAT

 

This week’s designation, of a number of Hezbollah agents working in West Africa, who are engaged in fundraising and recruiting, is a step in the right direction, but still leaves me asking: why aren’t the cadre of Hezbollah agents in Latin America also named and designated ?

Known as Hezbollah Latin America, as well as Hezbollah Venezuela, these terrorists traffic in narcotics, and other criminal pursuits, sending their illicit profits back to Beirut through cooperative financial institutions in the Republic of Panama. They are based in Venezuela, and operate openly, with the blessing of the regime in power there, whose leadership is believed to share in a portion of the the criminal profits, for assisting in the regular air transport of bulk cash into Panama, and allowing the trafficking to flourish.

Here’s the problem for financial institutions in the Western Hemisphere. The 92 Hezbollah agents in place in Latin America have all received valid Venezuelan passports, with new Spanish-sounding names created for them, thereby concealing their true Lebanese identities. I have seen some of those, and they are bona fide documents. These individuals now have clean identities, which allow them to open accounts, transact business, and assist in the material support of a specially designated global terrorist organisation. There are also approximately fifty other individuals who support their operation, cash cash couriers, front business operators, suppliers, and others activities; They also must be identified.

It is plain that law enforcement agencies of the United States have this information, but, with the exception of the leader of the group, none of these individuals has been designated by OFAC. The question is why not ? Neither Panamanian banks, nor for that matter American financial institutions, know who the Hezbollah agents are, and risk unwittingly providing material support to a designated terrorist group…

Read it all.

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Covert finance: recommended reading

June 20, 2013
  • Egyptian imam says that zakat is being used to fund fightersmore>>
  • With prepaid cards and fraud, the sky’s the limit… more>>
  • Sick of drug money funding terrorism? Plant science has developed to the point where we could eradicate the coca shrub and opium poppy, if we really wanted to… more>>
  • Sanctions violation:  the president of Panama’s private trading company is shipping 20 containers a month to Iranmore>>
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Jihadists exploit Latin America to finance terror

December 17, 2012

Latin America has experienced a possible increase in terror financing activities by radical Islamists throughout 2012.  Consider the developments that have been revealed this year:

  • In September, published reports indicated that a Hezbollah camp in Nicaragua is training 30 operatives and is laundering money.
  • The Venezuela chapter of Hezbollah is using Panama for bulk cash smuggling for follow-on transfer to Beirut.
  • Some goods, possibly even missile components, are being exported via Panama directly to Iran.
  • The use of the Venezuelan air carrier Conviasa to smuggle contraband through Africa to Europe earned it an “operational ban” from the EU in April.  Hezbollah profited from the Conviasa flights.  It is unclear whether the ban interferes with Conviasa’s African flights.
  • Cuba was listed again by the U.S. in 2012 as a state sponsor of terrorism partly for the continued safe haven Cuba provides to terrorist groups FARC and ETA.  Havana is now also letting IHH, the radical Islamist Turkish charity that has been banned by Germany for its financing of Hamas, build a mosque in Cuba.
  • A trio of Hezbollah agents in Mexico was exposed during an arrest of one operative who had previously been convicted in the U.S. for credit card fraud that funded terrorism.
  • Ecuador was blacklisted in June by FATF, the international financial watchdog, for failing to make progress against money laundering and terrorist financing.
  • In its annual report in July, the U.S. State Department said, “Brazil has not criminalized terrorist financing in a manner that is consistent with the FATF Special Recommendation II.”

Given its Western heritage and deep Catholic faith, Latin America can and should be a natural ally in the war against Islamic terror.  Its energy resources make it a natural counterweight to the oil powerhouse of the Middle East.

But this wonderful opportunity to present a united trans-American front against jihad is being jeopardized by attitudes of permissiveness, ignorance, and political correctness.  American politicians like Michelle Bachman and Connie Mack who recognize the threat are written off as know-nothing xenophobes.  But the news this year indicates that they are correct.

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Panamanian portal profits Hezbollah

November 30, 2012

Kenneth Rijock has another great piece on Panama—this one is about how Panamanian officials turn a blind eye to one of their banks being used by Hezbollah cocaine traffickers as a financial gateway to Lebanon.

Rijock pointedly asks “Is somebody asleep in Washington?”  Yes sir, and it’s not even 3 a.m.  The sun is up, but our leaders are snoring.

PANAMA IGNORES MASSIVE HEZBOLLAH MONEY LAUNDERING

Hezbollah Venezuela continues to actively launder its narcotics trafficking proceeds through a major Panamanian financial institution, which facilitates the movement of millions of dollars of its cocaine profits. Sadly, the story is well known to many of the country’s government and financial leaders. Though a small unit, numbering less than 100 cadre, Hezbollah Venezuela* regularly and continuously smuggles bulk cash into Panamanian airports, and into the bank. Remember the $25m that was seized upon arrival a while back ? Didn’t you wonder whose money it was ?

Once it has arrived in Panama, the drug cash is deposited in a bank whose ownership is linked through family ties to a senior government leader. Hezbollah has a small, but extremely effective, contingent in Panama, who facilitate the onward movement. Ultimately, most of the illicit profits are transferred to Beirut, and provide financial support for Hezbollah, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group.

Formed only a few years ago, and seemingly undercapitalised, it has quickly outgrown its original location, and plans to move into a multi-million dollar skyscraper for its new headquarters. It would appear that providing financial support to terrorist organisations pays well; ask the owners.

Why isn’t the Government of Panama closing down this bank ? It would mean a regulatory agency would be shutting down a relative’s business, and obviously, this does not happen in the Republic of Panama.

A final question: why, in the face of overwhelming proof, has the bank not been sanctioned by the Latin American team  at OFAC ? Is somebody asleep in Washington ? The leader of Hezbollah Venezuela is OFAC-sanctioned.
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*Sometimes known as Hezbollah Latin America.

Hezbollah gets a lot of money from its international criminal network, but we shouldn’t forget when we hear information like this that the terrorist organization also receives a lot of money from khums, the traditional Shia Muslim tax—it just doesn’t get as much attention from law enforcement or coverage by the news media.

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The Panama backdoor to Iran

November 23, 2012

The role of Lebanon’s banking system in funneling money to Iran is well documented.  The U.A.E.’s role as a transit point for illegal trade throughout the Middle East is also well known to readers of this blog and the @MoneyJihad feed on Twitter.

But one country historically associated with money laundering in the Americas rather than the Middle East deserves scrutiny as well:  Panama.

Panama’s system allows for some pretty loose business deals and transactions, and the country has long been known for its role in circumventing the embargo against Cuba.

The risk now is that Panama is also being used as a gateway to Iran.  This is particularly vexing if exporters are sending products via Panama to Iran that could be used in their pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Kenneth Rijock’s valuable perspective makes his piece about this a must read, not just for compliance officers at banks, but for anybody interested in stopping Iran’s nuclear progress.

IS THE PANAMANIAN COMPANY YOUR BANK CUSTOMER SELLS TO TRADING WITH IRAN?

Remember well that a number of Panamanian corporations buy goods from North American suppliers, and turn around and transship these products to Iran, exposing your bank customer, and possibly your bank, to serious sanctions violations. How are they accomplishing this, without your customer’s knowledge? The answer may surprise you.

One the dirty little secrets that the Government of the United States prefers to ignore is the bustling trade between Latin America and the Republic of Cuba. That is how the fifty year old US embargo is evaded. US-made Goods are shipped to Panama’s Free Trade Zone, and then conveniently transshipped to Cuban end users. America is powerless to stop this arrangement, and frankly it does result in increased sales of US products. Most observers consider the US embargo a failure, maintained only to placate the large US corporations whose assets were seized by Castro in 1960, and to get votes from hard-line right-wing Cuban expats living in the United States. We trade with Vietnam, who was an enemy in battle, but not with Cuba ? Politics, obviously.

There is a more disturbing aspect to this scenario; some of the goods purportedly destined for Cuba, are themselves transferred to other vessels, and sent directly to Iran. A number of Panamanian companies have been sanctioned by OFAC, after evidence of their illicit activity became known to US law enforcement agencies.

So, are your clients’ US-manufactured products being used in Iran ? Are any of them classified as dual-purpose goods, that could be used to advance iran’s WMD or ballistic missile programmes ? If so, is your bank potentially exposed to Draconian fines & penalties ?

Let me suggest the following:

  1. Ask these clients to deliver to you a certificate affirming that all their sales in Panama are not being resold to sanctioned Iranian customers. The document should state that the client has procedures in place to ensure that no transshipments to Iranian end users, directly or indirectly, have occurred, or shall occur in the future.
  2. This may stimulate the client to create a compliance programme designed to protect itself, and therefore, your bank, from being unwitting participants in supplying Iran with American goods. Frankly, they should have a compliance programme already in place, if they ship goods in international commerce. We have seen many US companies punished, for violating sanctions, who had no compliance department in place, to protect them.

If they decline your request, you may want to terminate your relationship with the client.

A footnote:  Panama was used by Lebanese drug trafficker Ayman Joumaa as one of his channels for funding Hezbollah.