US Treasury imposes sanctions on Lebanese businessman

The United States Treasury Department in Washington, DC, USA. (File photo)

(WASHINGTON, DC) — The U.S. Department of Treasury designated four Lebanese and two German nationals and 11 companies as “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers” pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

According to officials, the U.S. placed sanctions on Merhi Ali Abou Merhi, a Lebanese businessman who owns a holding company with multiple subsidiaries across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

“Merhi has business dealings with members of the Lebanese-Colombian drug-trafficking and money-laundering operation allegedly run by Ayman Joumaa, who was placed under sanctions in January 2011 and charged in December 2011 with cocaine distribution and money laundering,” the Treasury said.

“Merhi Ali Abou Merhi operates an extensive maritime shipping business that enables the Joumaa network’s illicit money laundering activity and widespread narcotics trafficking,” said John Smith, acting director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “The Joumaa criminal network is a multi-national money laundering ring whose money laundering activities have benefited Hezbollah.”

Abou Merhi Group has multiple subsidiaries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe including the following 10 designated companies: Abou-Merhi Lines SAL, a shipping line in Lebanon; Abou-Merhi Cruises (AMC) SAL, a travel agency in Lebanon; Le-Mall-Sidon, a shopping mall in south Lebanon; Queen Stations, a gas station in Lebanon; Orient Queen Homes, a real estate development in Lebanon; maritime shipping subsidiaries in Benin (Abou Merhi Cotonou), Nigeria (Abou Merhi Nigeria), and Germany (Abou Merhi Hamburg); Lebanon Center, a shopping mall in Jordan; and Abou Merhi Charity Institution in Lebanon.

The other Lebanese and German nationals on the list were designated for their management roles in Merhi’s various companies: Houeda Ahmad Nasreddine, also known as Houeida Abou Merhi; Ahmad El Bezri; Wajdi Youssef Nasr; Hana Merhi Abou Merhi; and Atef Merhi Abou Merhi.

On January 26, 2011, OFAC designated the Joumaa drug trafficking and money laundering organization as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker pursuant to the Kingpin Act.

On November 3, 2011, Ayman Joumaa was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for coordinating the shipment of over 85,000 kilograms of cocaine and laundering in excess of $250 million in narcotics proceeds. Ayman Joumaa remains a fugitive, according to the U.S. Treasury.

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