Lebanese Drug Lord Charged in US: Links to Zetas and Hezbollah

A Lebanese drug kingpin who allegedly has connections to the Zeta drug cartel and Hezbollah has been charged with drug dealing and money laundering, the Justice Department and DEA announced today.

Ayman Joumaa, a.k.a "Junior," and his associates allegedly shipped an estimated 85,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States and laundered more than $850 million in drug money coming out of Mexico from the Zeta cartel through front companies and The Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB).

In a federal indictment that was unsealed Monday, Joumaa was charged with cocaine distribution and money laundering.

In January, the Treasury Department designated Joumaa a major narcotics trafficker, alleging that he used cash exchange houses in Lebanon that had accounts with the Lebanese Canadian Bank.  A month later the LCB was designated by Treasury as a "Primary Money Laundering Concern"

According to U.S. officials, Hezbollah has obtained financing from Joumaa and his associates. U.S. officials say some officers with the Lebanese Canadian Bank and subsidiaries have connections with Hezbollah.

The case shows the reach of Hezbollah's financial support network. U.S. officials have long known about the group operating in South America's tri-border area in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina where the group runs drugs and large scale counterfeiting networks, according to U.S. officials. In recent years there has been more recent concern about the group establishing a footprint in Central America.

"The defendant's coordination of money laundering activities occurred in the United States, Lebanon, Benin, Panama, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere," the indictment alleged.

"According to information from sources, his alleged drug and money laundering activities facilitated numerous global drug trafficking organizations, including the criminal activities of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel," DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement.

The indictment alleges that Joumaa and his co-conspirators coordinated cocaine shipments from Colombia and Latin America to sell to the Zeta cartel and launder the drug proceeds, charging fees between 8 percent and 14 percent for laundering the funds.

"During the course of the conspiracy, the defendant typically picked up between $2 [million] and $4 million at a time in Mexico City," the indictment said of bulk shipments of U.S. currency that Joumaa and his associates would receive from the drug sales.

"Money fuels the drug trade, and Mr. Joumaa is alleged to be at the center of it all," U.S. Attorney  Neil MacBride said. "Working with those producing the vast majority of the world's cocaine to get their drugs safely into the hands of Mexican cartels, and then moving hundreds of millions in proceeds all around the world so the money can't be traced back to them in Colombia."