Journalism in the Public Interest

Government Says Hezbollah Profits From U.S. Cocaine Market Via Link to Mexican Cartel

U.S. authorities say a Lebanese drug kingpin is at the center of a conspiracy that laundered more than $250 million in drug-related proceeds and sent at least 85 tons of Colombian cocaine through Central America and Mexico in partnership with the Zetas cartel.

Hezbollah fighters parade during a rally to mark the Hezbollah Martyrs Day in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, on Nov. 11, 2011. (Bilal Hussein/AP Photo)

U.S. authorities are building a politically explosive case that Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, finances itself through a vast drug-smuggling network that links a Lebanese bank, a violent Mexican cartel and U.S. cocaine users.

Federal prosecutors Tuesday charged Ayman Joumaa, an accused Lebanese drug kingpin and Hezbollah financier, of smuggling tons of U.S.-bound cocaine and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars with the Zetas cartel of Mexico.

“Ayman Joumaa is one of top guys in the world at what he does: international drug trafficking and money laundering,” a U.S. anti-drug official said. “He has interaction with Hezbollah. There’s no indication that it’s ideological. It’s business.”

The indictment in Virginia results from a continuing investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration targeting Hezbollah, which has a bloody history of terror attacks against the United States and Israel.

Now a powerful partner in Lebanon's government, Hezbollah presents itself as a legitimate political party and rejects allegations of terrorism. But Tuesday's case reflects increasing concern that Hezbollah and its ally, Iran's intelligence service, are expanding their presence in Latin America as conflict with the West intensifies over Iran's nuclear program.

Hezbollah allegedly uses the cocaine trade to develop revenue and build foreign networks, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials. In October, the Justice Department charged an Iranian-American resident of Texas and two Iranian intelligence officers with plotting to hire Mexican cartel gunmen to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Acting in February under the Patriot Act, the U.S. Treasury Department publicly identified the Lebanese Canadian National bank of Beirut, Lebanon's eighth-largest bank, as a “financial institution of primary money laundering concern” linked to Hezbollah. Authorities alleged that the bank facilitated the financing of Hezbollah by Joumaa, a 47-year-old businessman who speaks excellent Spanish and resided many years in Colombia. About eleven years ago, he shifted his base to Lebanon because of law enforcement pressure, according to U.S. anti-drug officials.

The DEA described him earlier this year as the hub of a sophisticated operation that has smuggled cocaine from South America to Africa and Europe, and laundered profits via money exchange houses, used-car businesses and other companies in the United States, Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

The indictment unveiled Tuesday focuses on a different piece of the puzzle: U.S.-bound cocaine trafficking.

Ayman Joumaa (DEA)Joumaa allegedly coordinated the smuggling of at least 85 tons of Colombian cocaine through Central America and Mexico in partnership with the Zetas, the brutal Mexican cartel founded by former commandos, according to the indictment. Between 1997 and 2010, Joumaa's mafia laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for the Zetas and their Colombian and Venezuelan suppliers, regularly picking up southbound bulk cash shipments of $2 million to $4 million in Mexico City, the indictment says.

“Ayman Joumaa is accused of facilitating the shipments of huge amounts of cocaine for the United States while laundering the proceeds all over the globe,” said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. “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.”

Filed by the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, the indictment does not mention Hezbollah. But U.S. officials say the alliance with the Zetas was part of the already targeted network linked to the Lebanese militant group.

“The indictment does not reflect all of the information that the government has,” said a Justice Department official. “It's accurate that Treasury's previous statement connected Mr. Joumaa to Hezbollah. The investigation is ongoing.”

Antidrug officials cautioned that the connection between Hezbollah and the Zetas is indirect, with Joumaa’s drug and money network as the hub that does business with both organizations.

“It’s not like there’s a sit-down between the leaders of Hezbollah and the Zetas,” one official said.

The investigation is politically sensitive because views of Hezbollah — and its alleged involvement in the drug trade — differ around the world and even in the U.S. government.

The Shiite militia killed hundreds of people in terror strikes in the 1980s and 1990s, from the car-bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut to attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina. In recent years, though, Hezbollah has curbed attacks outside of the Middle East, focusing on its bitter military struggle with Israel and growing role in Lebanese politics. The group is seen in Lebanon, the Arab world and parts of the West as a legitimate resistance organization.

As Iran pursues its nuclear ambitions, Hezbollah and Iran are locked in a worsening shadow conflict with the United States and Israel. This week, Hezbollah leaders claimed that they had identified clandestine CIA officers working in Lebanon.

International sanctions have hurt Iran, which helps fund, train and direct Hezbollah. As a result, antiterror officials say the militant group has relied more heavily on longtime ties to criminal rackets involving members of the far-flung Lebanese diaspora. The DEA has pursued several cases in which Hezbollah operatives allegedly teamed up with or taxed Lebanese-connected traffickers of South American cocaine.

The Joumaa case is the biggest so far. The network described in U.S. documents encompasses Joumaa relatives and associates who own money exchanges, stores and other businesses in Colombia, Panama, Lebanon, Benin and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Joumaa allegedy has overseen flows of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela through two smuggling pipelines: north through Mexico to the United States and east through Africa to Europe and the Middle East.

The organization charged its partners in Mexico and elsewhere between 8 percent and 14 percent for using its sophisticated apparatus to launder the huge cash proceeds, the indictment says. It accuses Joumaa of laundering more than $250 million out of at least $850 million in drug-related proceeds.

“Hezbollah derived financial support from the criminal activities of Joumaa's network,” says a Treasury Department document that laid out allegations about the Lebanese Canadian Bank in February. “Additionally, LCB managers are linked to Hezbollah officials outside Lebanon. For example, Hezbollah's Tehran-based envoy Abdallah Safieddine is involved in Iranian officials' access to LCB and key LCB managers, who provide them banking services.”

A money exchange house in Joumaa's network used a branch of the Lebanese bank to deposit “bulk proceeds of drug sales” and then wire them to “U.S.-based used car dealers,” the document says. The cars were sold and sent to Africa in suspiciously structured transactions, U.S. officials say.

The Lebanese bank denied the U.S. charges in February. In the wake of the Treasury allegations, however, Lebanon's Central Bank announced that a Lebanese subsidiary of Societe Generale would acquire the assets and liabilities of Lebanese Canadian Bank, which had 35 branches and $5 billion in assets.

Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this story.


Dec. 13, 2011, 5:01 p.m.

The drug war benefits, among others, terrorists and criminals. See my “Latin America Should End Its Drug War,”

Now cocaine and crack dealers and users will be scrutinized more, good! Newsflash, this stuff is addictive and helps finance terrorists! Drug users, they don’t care about you, they just want your money! And drug dealers, did you know where the money was going? Now you do!

This article seems very biased.  The author appears to recite the government’s allegations against Hezbollah from a press release, despite the fact that neither Hezbollah nor any of its officers are even mentioned in the indictment. 

Furthermore, the US government has a long rich history of false and misleading statements, especially relating to enemies of Israel, for which the author makes no note.

I expect better from Pro Publica.

Anne Rettenberg

Dec. 13, 2011, 6:41 p.m.

I agree with Dan Stewart. This seems like material spoon-fed from US government sources. The purpose seems to be to cook up more reasons to attack Iran. Well, if drugs are a legitimate reason, why not bomb Mexico too.  I, like Dan, expect better from Propublica. The US government has also had relationships with organizations involved in criminal activity.
Furthermore, it is incorrect to state that an attack on a military target during a time of war is “terrorism.” That is not the standard definition of terrorism, a term which generally refers to attacks on civilians
. I would like to know exactly how this story was researched.

I agree with Mr. Stewart.

So many problems with this article, I don’t even know where to begin.

My impression is that it reads more like a US Government propaganda piece than anything else. I’m struggling to figure out how anything in this article falls into the realm of public interest reporting.

Oh, great. So in furtherance of our war on terror…the 82nd Airborne begins arriving at a Mexico Airport near me, soon?

Stewart has my take on the article too.  Pure feed from government sources; no signs of research and digging to understand Hezbollah.  First time I’ve had doubts about a Pro Publica story.  Shame on the editors, to say nothing about the stenographer.

I can’t believe what I just read:

“In recent years, though, Hezbollah has curbed attacks outside of the Middle East, focusing on its bitter military struggle with Israel and growing role in Lebanese politics. The group is seen in Lebanon, the Arab world and parts of the West as a legitimate resistance organization.”

WHICH “parts of the West”?  Are you kidding?  Hizbollah is the lowest form of criminal.  They hide their rockets and other weapons among civilians!  They could not care less how many innocent people are killed by retaliatory fire.  Their mission is to keep the hate-Israel pot boiling, just like the rest of the Arab world, which relies on this distraction to keep their people from reacting against oppression.

Jews are taught to value life above all.  Arabs are taught to value killing themselves and innocent civilians above all.

Barry Schmittou

Dec. 13, 2011, 9:09 p.m.

U.S banks also operate “through a vast drug-smuggling network” while the U.S. Government protects them !!

Wachovia Bank Laundered $378 Billion Dollars for the cartels !!

No One at Wachovia Was Prosecuted !!

Obama and other politicians received $1,268,970 in Contributions from Wachovia and its Employees !!

Wachovia Paid $110 Million in Fines Which is only 1/3 of one percent of the $378 Billion of Murder Related Money They Laundered !!

Here’s a quote from England’s Guardian Observer News:

“At the height of the 2008 banking crisis, Antonio Maria Costa, then head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime, said he had evidence to suggest the proceeds from drugs and crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to banks on the brink of collapse. “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade,” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”

Bank of America laundered drug money too. The New York Times wrote :

“Bank of America acknowledged its lax operations allowed South American money launderers to illegally move $3 billion through a single Midtown Manhattan branch, closing the latest illicit-finance investigation brought by Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney. No indictment was sought “because we don’t want to put banks out of business,” Mr. Morgenthau said.”

Leaders of both political parties are protecting deadly campaign contributors by pretending they are too big to prosecute !!!!!!!!

A 12 year old San Diego Boy was recently kidnapped in Mexico by a drug cartel. He was forced to decapitate four people !!!!!!

Please go to :

Bloomberg news wrote :

“It’s the banks laundering money for the cartels that finances the tragedy,” says Martin Woods, director of Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering unit in London from 2006 to 2009. Woods says he quit the bank in disgust after executives ignored his documentation that drug dealers were funneling money through Wachovia’s branch network.

“If you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point,” Woods says.

“I am sure Wachovia knew what was going on,” says Jose Marmolejo, who oversaw the criminal investigation into Wachovia’s customers in Mexico. “It went on too long and they made too much money not to have known.”

CNN wrote :

“Two mangled bodies hanging like cuts of meat from a pedestrian bridge. A woman was hogtied and disemboweled, her intestines protruding from three deep cuts on her abdomen. Attackers left her topless, dangling by her feet and hands from a bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. Mexico’s notoriously ruthless drug gangs regularly hang victims from bridges and highway overpasses.”

Here’s a quote from Huffington Post :

MEXICO CITY — Suspected drug traffickers dumped 35 bodies at rush hour beneath a busy overpass in the heart of a major Gulf coast city as gunmen pointed weapons at frightened drivers. Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are examining surveillance video for clues to who committed the crime.

(In the recent Gun Walking scandal, Obama’s ATF allowed the Mexican cartels to smuggle thousands of guns into Mexico. CBS indicated there are now 35,000 murders associated with the drug cartels)

American Express Bank International and Western Union also laundered drug money and no one was prosecuted.

Evidence linked below proves Corporate contributors are also causing Mass Suicides, Deaths and Endangerment in Five Different Types of Insurance !! Obama and Bush’s Campaign Contributors From Multiple Insurance Companies Pay Doctors’ Who Ignore Multiple Sclerosis, Brain lesions, and Cardiac Conditions of Many Disabled Patients.

They Caused So Many Suicides of Injured Workers WFAA – TV in Dallas Texas Wrote :

“a remarkable number of Texans committed suicide because they could no longer endure the pain caused by their injuries and they had been repeatedly turned down for worker’s comp care.”

MetLife, Prudential, and Unum insurance also rigged bids to increase sales of Health Care and Disability policies. No one was prosecuted. They love to sell these policies because they know the DOL and DOJ will let them repeatedly violate laws and endanger and claimants !!

JP Morgan Chase and AIG have received multiple Non Prosecution agreements for committing identical and similar crimes of bid rigging and/or securities or Health Care fraud!!

See more evidence that I filed in Federal Court by going to the following website; please remember Bush protected the same crimes, but I was having surgeries and not able to document as much; Judge Trauger saw this evidence and more and ruled that I did not provide a legal reason to appoint a Special Prosecutor :

Hezbo also operates out of and with sympathizers in Dearborn via cigarette smuggling and money laundering.  Mostly in the open where authorities and the FBI are afraid to touch them due to the big Muslim presence there and mostly entwined in the political apparatus of Dearborn and Michigan in general. Then you have the Obama admin and Holder appeasing them on all fronts. 

Hillary is at a conference on religious tolerance where they are attempting to make any bad reference to a religion (ie Islam) a crime.  Will lower your free speech rights to not offend religion of the world.  Also being pushed at the UN.

Walter D. Shutter, Jr.

Dec. 14, 2011, 7:36 a.m.

The illegal drug trade is BIG money. And money, like water, will always find a way.
If you want to eliminate illegal drug money as a source of funding for terrorist organizations, you have to legalize drugs. It’s that simple. Everything else is BS.

I have to agree.  Just a few weeks ago, the Iran-Zeta link made no sense.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, it’s an unquestionable assertion?  Sorry, but no.

And as for, “Hezbollah allegedly uses the cocaine trade to develop revenue and build foreign networks, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials,” that’s the United States.  Remember Iran-Contra, the action that created the current regime in Iran?  Are we worried the Iranians have cut out the CIA middle men?

This article appears to be unrelated data points asserted to be a link.  If it’s so obvious, a little proof or sourcing shouldn’t be too difficult.

David M. Siegler

Dec. 14, 2011, 11:33 a.m.

What?  No mention of Algeria.

“Today the major part of the structure of Soviet power is committed to the perfection of the dictatorship and to the maintenance of the concept of Russia as in a state of siege, with the enemy lowering beyond the walls. And the millions of human beings who form that part of the structure of power must defend at all costs this concept of Russia’s position, for without it they are themselves superfluous.”

George Kennan’s The Sources of Soviet Conduct circa 1947.

(P.S.  Wouldn’t expect g’ment to alter its position of keeping drugs illegal thus ensuring that their manufacture/growth and distribution remains extremely lucrative anytime soon given how versatile drugs are if you need to create or escalate the perceived threat in a bogeyman.)

I also sadly noticed the glaring bias in the article. Very disappointed…

This is a shame for international community: the global public; for not reacting with common sense to a group of Mullahs and thugs doing heineous crimes against humanity in the name of religious laws that are in other words old politics. Wake up sane humans on earth. Your voice in this digital era will be heard as soon as you speak. Wise guys in the West, please rest assured that any of the religious thugs is no longer able to start crusading type things of ancient times.

Any chance of an article on the biggest drug dealers….
CIA and MI-5 ...????

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