US charges prominent Lebanese businessman with money laundering, narcotics trafficking
The U.S. has officially accused a prominent Lebanese businessman of money laundering and drug trafficking along with five other individuals and 11 companies. According to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, four Lebanese, two German nationals and 11 firms were accused of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
Among them was renowned Lebanese businessman Merhi Abou Merhi for his alleged ties to a maritime network tied To “Joumaa Criminal Organization.”
The Treasury said the Lebanese and German individuals provide support for narcotics trafficking and money laundering activities conducted by Lebanese-Colombian drug trafficker and money launderer Ayman Saied Joumaa, key Joumaa associate Hassan Ayash, and the Joumaa criminal organization, which has ties to Hezbollah.
An employee in one of Abou Merhi’s offices told The Daily Star that his lawyers intend to issue a statement soon denying all the allegations slapped by the U.S. Treasury.
She added that all of Abou Merhi’s branches and offices were operating normally until now.
A banker told the paper that only the Banking Supervision has the right to order banks to freeze Abou Merhi’s accounts.
Abou Merhi is a prominent Shiite businessmen in Lebanon and this is not the first time Shiite investors and businessmen have been targeted by the United States for allegedly laundering money and drug trafficking.
The U.S Treasury said “any assets these designated entities and individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”
“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 E. 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,” he added.
Smith said the U.S. action targets Abou Merhi who owns and controls the Abou Merhi Group, a holding company in Lebanon that is on the sanctions list.
Abou Merhi Group has multiple subsidiaries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe including the following 10 designated firms: Abou-Merhi Lines SAL, a shipping line in Lebanon; Abou-Merhi Cruises 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 Treasury said Abou Merhi has business dealings with previously designated members of the Joumaa drug trafficking and money laundering organization.
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.
A source in Beirut said Hana and Atef are Abou Merhi’s children.
Merhi’s maritime vessels provide used vehicle transportation services to the Joumaa organization, according to the U.S. Treasury. Merhi, Abou Merhi Group, and Abou Merhi Lines SAL currently own the five vessels identified today: City of Antwerp, City of Lutece, City of Misurata, City of Tokyo, and Orient Queen II.