Two alleged Hezbollah associates face U.S. arms, money laundering charges

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 09, 2015 5:17 PM

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two Beirut residents have been arrested on U.S. charges that they took part in an alleged scheme to help Hezbollah launder drug money, and to funnel thousands of weapons and military parts to criminal groups in Lebanon and Iran, prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, said on Friday.

Iman Kobeissi, 50, was arraigned in Brooklyn on Friday and held without bail, following her arrest a day earlier in Atlanta on charges of conspiring to commit money laundering and conspiring to deal in unlicensed firearms.

The other defendant, Joseph Asmar, 42, was arrested in Paris on a U.S. warrant and charged with money laundering conspiracy.

A lawyer for Kobeissi could not immediately be reached for comment. It is unclear whether Asmar has hired a lawyer.

Prosecutors said the arrests followed a two-year sting operation in which the defendants had meetings with an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent posing as a drug trafficker.

Kobeissi allegedly claimed to have contacts at Hezbollah looking to buy drugs, weapons and ammunition, and associates in Lebanon and France capable of money laundering.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese paramilitary group that the U.S. State Department designates as a foreign terrorist organization.

Prosecutors said Kobeissi also expressed interest in selling aircraft parts to Iran, despite U.S. sanctions against that country that would bar a sale.

Meanwhile, Asmar claimed to be an attorney whose connections at European and Middle Eastern banks enabled him to launder any sum of money, and who could use his Hezbollah connections to provide security for drug shipments, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the defendants conspired to launder $8 million on behalf of alleged South American and Central American drug traffickers.

In one instance, according to court papers, French police in March photographed Kobeissi on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris accepting a bag from the undercover agent containing $250,000, which she then wired, less a 20 percent commission, to an undercover DEA account in Brooklyn through a bank in Dubai.

The Kobeissi case is U.S. v. Kobeissi, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 15-mj-00962. The Asmar case remained under seal as of Friday.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)