U.S. charges two Lebanese with laundering money for Hezbollah

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah wave Lebanese and Hezbollah flags as they listen to a televised address by Hassan Nasrallah during a rally in Nabi Sheet. (Reuters)

(NEW YORK) — U.S. prosecutors on Friday charged two Lebanese nationals with plotting to launder drug money and broker other illegal deals to Lebanon to support Hezbollah.

Prosecutors allege that Lebanese businesswoman Iman Kobeissi, 50, and Lebanese attorney Joseph Asmar, 42, are connected to a global network of money launderers for Hezbollah.

Kobeissi allegedly tried to purchase thousands of weapons, including more than 1,000 assault rifles and machine guns, for Lebanese fighters. Authorities claim she told an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent that she planned to buy weapons for Hezbollah associates in Iran.

Kobeissi was arrested Thursday in Atlanta and transferred to New York.

Authorities said Joseph Asmar conspired to launder about $8 million from South and Central American drug traffickers. Asmar was arrested on a provisional warrant in Paris, according to authorities.

The criminal complaint was unsealed Friday in a New York federal court, detailing two years of recorded meetings between undercover U.S. agents and Kobeissi and Asmar.

In October 2014, drug enforcement agents said Kobeissi told them she had friends in Hezbollah who wanted to purchase cocaine, weapons, and ammunition. According to the report, Kobeissi and Asmar said their friends in Africa could provide security for planeloads of cocaine heading to the U.S. and other countries.

During the investigation, undercover agents gave approximately $400,000 in fake drug proceeds to Kobeissi and Asmar, who laundered the money back to the U.S. in exchange for a commission, prosecutors said.

In total, the defendants allegedly plotted to launder $8 million in illicit funds on behalf of drug-trafficking organizations in Latin America.

Kobeissi pleaded not guilty in court Friday. Asmar was arrested in Paris, but his lawyer could not be located for comment.

The U.S. State Department designates Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization, although a January 2014 report removed the group from its “Terrorism” section, citing attempts to “dampen sectarianism.”

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