Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cook, Poe, and Ros-Lehtinen Urge More Action on Hezbollah in Western Hemisphere

Dec - 20, 2017 Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Paul Cook (R-CA-08), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Ted Poe (TX-02), Chairman of Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs sent a letter to President Trump urging stronger U.S. action on Hezbollah's drug trafficking activities in the Western Hemisphere. The letter urges the Administration to designate Hezbollah as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) and as a Designated Kingpin Entity (SDNTK) and to open an investigation into Hezbollah as a criminal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act:

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen: "It's no secret that, in its pursuit of the weak and dangerous nuclear deal, the Obama administration ignored Iran's illicit activity and the threat the state sponsor of terror-regime posed to our national security and the security and stability of our allies. If recent reports of the size and scope of Hezbollah's operations in Latin America are true, we should all be alarmed as it puts the terror group right in our own hemisphere. We have no time to waste in addressing this threat and that is why I have joined Ted and Paul in writing to the administration and urging it to take immediate steps to disrupt Hezbollah's financial networks and to attempt to reverse the damaged already caused."

Chairman Cook: "For far too long we have ignored the growing convergence of Iran-backed Hezbollah with transnational criminal networks in Latin America. While I applaud the Trump Administration for prioritizing the need to deter and disrupt Hezbollah in the Middle East and elsewhere, we need to do more to address Hezbollah's illicit activities closer to home in the Western Hemisphere. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that also runs a criminal enterprise and traffics drugs from South America to fund its global terrorist operations. The U.S. and our regional partners have a vital interest in using every possible tool to prevent Hezbollah's ability to conduct terrorism, particularly given past attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s and an attempted attack in Washington, D.C. in 2011. President Trump has a huge opportunity now to strike a major blow to Hezbollah's ability to carry out its terror operations, and I look forward to supporting the President's efforts on this critical issue."

Chairman Poe: "The U.S. government must use all resources at our disposal to go after Iran's number one terrorist proxy: Hezbollah. Hezbollah leverages both traditional fundraising methods as well as illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and money laundering, to fund their murderous plots.  Hezbollah is the poster-child for what has been called the "terrorist-criminal nexus." There is absolutely no reason why they should not be designated by the United States as a Transnational Criminal Organization and a Designated Kingpin Entity. The decades-old terrorist designations on Hezbollah only go so far to address the size and scope of Hezbollah's global illicit activities. I call upon the Trump Administration to not repeat the mistakes of the past administration and make targeting Hezbollah's illicit activities a first order priority."

The text of the letter can be found below.

December 19, 2017

President Donald Trump

1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

We write to express our support for stronger U.S. action to address Hezbollah's drug trafficking activities in the Western Hemisphere. While Hezbollah is designated under several terrorism programs as well as Syria country sanctions, we do not believe that these actions are sufficient to address the size and scope of Hezbollah's illicit activities in the Americas. Therefore, we urge your Administration to advance a new focus on Hezbollah's drug trafficking efforts and connections to organized crime in the region by directing U.S. agencies to designate Hezbollah as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) under E.O. 13581 and as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficking Kingpin (SDNTK) entity pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. We also urge you to direct the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into Hezbollah as a criminal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

We are concerned over press reports that the Obama Administration may have inhibited efforts by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Treasury, and State to target and prosecute key Hezbollah operatives engaged in terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Addressing Hezbollah's illicit activities in the Western Hemisphere has been a top U.S. Congressional priority for many years as demonstrated by multiple oversight hearings and visits to the region. These efforts, along with findings by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, have uncovered direct ties between Hezbollah and criminal groups in the region that have reportedly allowed Hezbollah to amass nearly $1 billion annually to support its global terrorist operations.

We believe the U.S. has failed to take sufficient action to disrupt Hezbollah's illicit financing, and this issue warrants immediate review given recent developments. When the report mandated by The Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act was submitted to Congress in 2013, the Government Accountability Office's 2014 review revealed that the report only addressed two of the 12 elements required by law. In June 2017, an individual with alleged ties to Hezbollah was indicted in Miami after being extradited to the U.S. by Paraguay, and one individual was arrested for attempting to provide support to Hezbollah in targeting U.S. and Israeli embassies in Panama. These events follow the 2014 arrest of a Hezbollah operative in Peru, the Iranian-linked assassination attempt on the Saudi Ambassador in 2011, and the terrorist attacks against two Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s as well as the assassination of former Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2015, who uncovered evidence of Iran and Hezbollah's role in these attacks.

In October 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3329, the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act, which included Section 105 mandating a U.S. strategy to address Iran and Hezbollah's illicit networks in the Western Hemisphere and requiring the alignment of U.S. actions on these issues and greater engagement with regional partners. We believe H.R. 3329 along with application of targeted drug trafficking designations are critical to address loopholes in the current U.S. approach to Hezbollah's illicit activities. We urge your support in addressing these matters and look forward to working with you to advance your new National Security Strategy in the days ahead.