Monday, October 15, 2018

Attorney General Sessions Announces New Measures to Fight Transnational Organized Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, October 15, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions today announced a series of measures to dismantle transnational criminal organizations.

"The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me an executive order to dismantle transnational criminal organizations—the gangs and cartels who flood our streets with drugs and violence," Attorney General Sessions said.  "We embrace that order and we carry it out every single day.  Today, to increase our effectiveness, I am putting in place new leadership to drive our transnational organized crime efforts and forming a Transnational Organized Crime Task Force of experienced prosecutors that will coordinate and optimize the Department's efforts to take each of these groups off of our streets for good."

The Attorney General has appointed Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hovakimian to serve as the Department's first Director of Counter Transnational Organized Crime.  Hovakimian has served in Department leadership since early 2017 and also as an AUSA in the Southern District of California, where he is co-lead counsel in a series of transnational public corruption and fraud cases.  In addition to his duties as federal prosecutor, earlier this year the President nominated and the U.S. Senate confirmed Hovakimian to serve as a Commissioner of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States.

Attorney General Sessions has appointed Adam Cohen as the new Director of Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).  Cohen is currently the Chief of the Criminal Division Special Operations Unit's Office of Enforcement Operations and has served in the Criminal Division for 10 years.  He has also served as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for five years and as a state prosecutor in Florida for seven years.  He also led the National Gang Targeting Enforcement and Coordination Center for nearly three years and has served as a Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section.  He is a past recipient of the Assistant Attorney General's Award for Reduction and Deterrence of Violent and Organized Crime, as well as the DEA Administrator's Award for his work to counter narcotics trafficking.

On February 9, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order 13773, which directed the federal government to "ensure that Federal law enforcement agencies give a high priority and devote sufficient resources to efforts to identify, interdict, disrupt, and dismantle transnational criminal organizations[.]"

Following this Executive Order, Attorney General Sessions directed the FBI, DEA, OCDETF, and the Department's Criminal Division to identify top transnational criminal groups that threaten the safety and prosperity of the United States and its allies.  As a result of that review, the Attorney General is designating the following criminal groups as top transnational organized crime threats:

•     MS-13

•     Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG)

•     Sinaloa Cartel

•     Clan del Golfo, and

•     Lebanese Hezbollah.

The Attorney General's TOC Task Force will be led by the Deputy Attorney General and will be composed of experienced prosecutors.  It will be organized into one subcommittee for each of the target groups.

The subcommittee on MS-13 will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.  AUSA Durham has played a significant role in the FBI's Long Island Task Force, which has arrested hundreds of MS-13 members.

The subcommittee on Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion will be led by Trial Attorney Brett Reynolds of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department's Criminal Division.  Reynolds has led or co-led several investigations into the Cartel that have led to indictments of some of its highest ranking members.

The subcommittee on the Sinaloa Cartel will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Sutton of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California.  AUSA Sutton prosecuted several Sinaloa kingpins and led multiple international investigations targeting Sinaloa Cartel leaders, resulting in seizures of millions of dollars in drug proceeds and thousands of kilograms of illicit drugs.

The subcommittee on Clan del Golfo will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Emery of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.  AUSA Emery has secured convictions against the top leadership of Clan del Golfo, including kingpin Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, who commanded over 1,000 armed men for the cartel.

The subcommittee on Lebanese Hezbollah will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilan Graff of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.  AUSA Graff is overseeing the prosecution of two alleged members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization, the first such operatives to be charged with terrorism offenses in the United States.

Attorney General Sessions has ordered each of these subcommittees to provide specific recommendations within 90 days on how to disrupt and dismantle TOC, whether through prosecution, diplomacy, or other lawful means.

This new Task Force builds upon work that Attorney General Sessions has already done to dismantle these groups.  On January 11, 2018, Attorney General Sessions established the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT), a group of experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors.  HFNT prosecutors and investigators are tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases.  The new subcommittee—which will be staffed and led by HFNT members—will aid the ongoing work of the HFNT.

On October 23, 2017, Attorney General Sessions formally designated MS-13 as a priority target for OCDETF.


Friday, October 12, 2018

US Senate unanimously passes two bills sanctioning Hezbollah

The bills target companies that knowingly assist Hezbollah and any use of human shields
Joyce Karam
October 12, 2018
The HIFPAA and the STOP Using Human Shields Act passed the Senate with unanimous bipartisan support. AP
The US Senate cleared two major bills on Friday that go after Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, passing both unanimously with bipartisan support.

Lawmakers sent the "Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017" (HIFPAA) to the President's desk, who is expected to sign in it into law in the coming days.

The HIFPAA and the "STOP Using Human Shields Act" (known as STOP) unanimously passed the US Senate, clearing the way for sanctions that would target the Iranian-funded group. The HIFPAA legislation will go after foreign individuals and companies that voluntarily provide financial, material or technological support to Hezbollah and its affiliates. It targets Hezbollah-controlled social and financial organisations such as Bayt al Mal, the Islamic Resistance Support Association, Jihad al Binaa, the Foreign Relations Department of Hezballah, Al Manar TV, Al Nour Radio, and the Lebanese Media Group with sanctions.

The bill also requires the president to report to Congress on Hezbollah's transnational activity, including any money laundering and narcotics activities across Latin America, the African continent or Asia and Europe. The bill also goes after state sponsors of the Lebanese party.

The Senate also passed the human shields prevention act, to impose sanctions on groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda that it accuses of using civilians as human shields in conflict. The bill that passed the Senate eliminated a requirement for the US President to go to the UN Security Council and enact a Human Shields resolution. It will now go to the House of Representatives for another vote before being referred to the President's desk.

Tyler Stapleton, deputy director of congressional relations at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, told The National that unanimous support for the bills across party lines shows where Congress stands on Hezbollah. "It means that every Senator thinks targeting Hezbollah's financing is a good policy objective and that sanctioning countries that do business with Hezbollah is worth pursuing" Mr Stapleton said.

He said, particularly with HIFPAA, "sanctions could also be imposed on the governments of Syria and Lebanon" if they are found facilitating and coordinating funding for Hezbollah.

This pressure may complicate matters for the party inside Lebanon, argued Randa Slim, a director of the track II dialogues program at the Middle East Institute. Ms Slim, who has extensively studied Hezbollah, told The National that the bills "further complicate Hezbollah's financial situation which has already been weakened by four factors."

These include the costs of Hezbollah's intervention in Syria; US sanctions on Iran which are cutting into Hezbollah's money supply from Tehran; fears among Hezbollah's Lebanese Shia financiers after the arrest and extradition to US of Kassim Tajeddine, a major Hezbollah financier who was arrested in Morocco last year, and worsening economic conditions in Lebanon which put more strains on Hezbollah's core constituency.

Asked if the sanctions would affect Hezbollah's share in the future Lebanese government, Ms Slim did not expect major changes on that front. "This has already been factored into their calculus" she said.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Treasury Continues to Expose and Disrupt Hizballah’s Financial Support Networks

October 4, 2018 
Washington – The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today to disrupt Hizballah's financial support networks by designating Muhammad 'Abdallah al-Amin (al-Amin) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224.  OFAC designated al-Amin for providing material support to Hizballah insider and financier Adham Husayn Tabaja (Tabaja).  In addition to al-Amin, OFAC designated seven Lebanon-based companies that are owned or controlled by al-Amin:  Sierra Gas S.A.L. Offshore, Lama Foods S.A.R.L., Lama Foods International Offshore S.A.L., Impulse S.A.R.L., Impulse International S.A.L. Offshore, M. Marine S.A.L. Offshore, and Thaingui S.A.L. Offshore. 

"Hizballah is an Iranian-proxy, and this Administration is focused on exposing and disrupting its terrorist funding networks.  We are exerting extraordinary pressure on Hizballah financiers like Tabaja to halt their pernicious activities in Lebanon and beyond," said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  "Our action should serve as a warning that we will impose consequences on anyone engaging in business relationships with al-Amin or other Hizballah support networks.  Treasury has taken more actions against Hizballah this year than ever before, and we are fully committed to shutting down this terrorist network."

Calendar year 2018 marks the highest number of Hizballah-related designations by OFAC in a single year.  The designation of al-Amin and his companies builds upon additional actions taken in February 2018 targeting the Tabaja network operating in West Africa and Lebanon.  OFAC designated Tabaja on June 6, 2015, for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.  Tabaja maintains direct ties to senior Hizballah officials and Hizballah's operational component, the Islamic Jihad, which is responsible for planning, coordinating, and executing Hizballah's terrorist attacks worldwide.  Tabaja also holds properties in Lebanon on behalf of Hizballah. 

All property and interests in property of those persons designated today that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are now blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

MUHAMMAD 'ABDALLAH AL-AMIN

Al-Amin was designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Tabaja.

Al-Amin conceals funds for Tabaja, and Tabaja has held a significant amount of funds in al-Amin's name at a Lebanese bank.  Al-Amin has also served as a liaison between Tabaja and banking officials and has assisted Tabaja in circumventing the impact of sanctions. 

In addition to his direct support to Tabaja, al-Amin has been involved in financial activities with Muhammad Fallah Kallas, whom OFAC designated on October 20, 2016, for providing financial services to or in support of Tabaja through his work for Tabaja's company, Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting (Al-Inmaa).  Moreover, al-Amin has business relationships with Ali Muhammad Qansu and Jihad Muhammad Qansu, whom OFAC designated on February 2, 2018, for acting for or on behalf of Tabaja and Tabaja's company, Al-Inmaa, respectively. 

LEBANON-BASED COMPANIES SIERRA GAS S.A.L. OFFSHORE, LAMA FOODS S.A.R.L., LAMA FOODS INTERNATIONAL OFFSHORE S.A.L., IMPULSE S.A.R.L., IMPULSE INTERNATIONAL S.A.L. OFFSHORE, M. MARINE S.A.L. OFFSHORE, AND THAINGUI S.A.L. OFFSHORE.

All seven entities were designated for being owned or controlled by al-Amin.

Al-Amin is a founder, majority shareholder, and the chairman of Sierra Gas S.A.L. Offshore, a provider of gas field services; Lama Foods International Offshore S.A.L., a food importer and distributor; Impulse International S.A.L. Offshore, a general merchandise distributor; M. Marine S.A.L. Offshore, a general merchandise distributor; and Thaingui S.A.L. Offshore.  Al-Amin also holds a majority ownership stake in, and is the general manager of, Lama Foods S.A.R.L., a food import and trade company.  Additionally, al-Amin is a founder, the majority shareholder, and the managing director of Impulse S.A.R.L., an advertising company.

The seven companies designated today should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of companies owned or controlled by al-Amin, and the regulated community remains responsible for conducting necessary due diligence and maintaining compliance with OFAC's 50 percent rule.

Additionally, al-Amin and the seven entities designated today are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implements the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015.  Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah, or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, Hizballah.