Terrorist ties to Tulsa car buyer?

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A U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) money-laundering and forfeiture complaint filed Thursday, December 15, 2011, in U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York lists a Tulsa company, Ace Auto Leasing, Inc., as the recipient of over $20 million in wire transfers from Lebanese financial institutions with links to Lebanese terrorist group Hizbollah ("The Party of God").

The DEA news release describes the alleged money-laundering scheme:

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announced today the filing of a civil money-laundering and in rem forfeiture complaint (the "Complaint") alleging a massive, international scheme in which Lebanese financial institutions, including a bank and two exchange houses linked to Hizballah, used the U.S. financial system to launder narcotics trafficking and other criminal proceeds through West Africa and back into Lebanon. As part of the scheme, funds were wired from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa. Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hizballah-controlled money laundering channels. Substantial portions of the cash were paid to Hizballah, which the U.S. Department of State designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997. As alleged in the Complaint, the Hizballah-linked financial institutions involved in the scheme include the Lebanese Canadian Bank ("LCB") and two Lebanese exchange houses - the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and Ellissa Holding - and their related subsidiaries and affiliates.

The two exchange houses are listed as defendants, and their assets, along with the assets of 30 used car dealers in the United States (including Ace Auto Leasing, Inc.), are named as defendants in rem.

A New York Times graphic from Tuesday, December 13, 2011, depicts the complex flow of money in the alleged money-laundering scheme. Funds from car sales in west Africa and profits from European drug sales wound up in Benin, where the funds were shipped to exchange houses in Lebanon. Some of those funds went to Hizbollah, some money went back to the US via the Lebanese Canadian Bank to buy more used cars, which were shipped to west Africa for sale.

According to page 49 of the DEA complaint (75-page PDF), Ace Auto Leasing Inc. received 219 wire transfers totalling $20,241,183, with the following breakdown by originator:

Hassan Ayash Exchange 4
Mohamad Hassan Hammoud 42
Fadi Hammoud 5
Fadi Star 43
Khodor Fakih 6
Ali Fakih 4
Fakih for General Trade 11

Pages 34-35 of the complaint explain what the Hassan Ayash Exchange is:

E. Hassan Ayash Exchange Company

46. The Hassan Ayash Exchange Company is a money exchange based in Beirut, Lebanon. The Hassan Ayash Exchange is owned and controlled by Mahmoud Hassan Ayash ("Hassan Ayash") and his son, Hassan Mahmoud Ayash. The exchange's principal office is located adjacent to the Caesar Park Hotel in Beirut, which is owned by Ayman Joumaa.

47. Wire transfers originating from the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company totaling approximately $141,522,091 were sent to United States accounts for the purpose of purchasing or shipping cars between in or about January 2007 and in or about January 2011.

48. Hassan Ayash and the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company facilitate bulk cash transfers and money laundering by, among others, Ayman Joumaa and Joumaa's narcotics trafficking and money laundering network.

49. Hassan Ayash has stated that he has family ties to Hizballah, including Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah. Hassan Ayash has further stated that his connections to important people in Lebanon help him provide services for clients of the Hassan Ayash Exchange. Hassan Ayash requires that an existing client of the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company vouch for a prospective client before the prospective client can establish an account with the exchange to transfer large amounts of money.

Here's what pp 47-48 of the complaint states about the other names mentioned above:

c. Khodor Fakih is a Hizballah member from Kafra, Lebanon, who now works in the car business in Cotonou, Benin. Khodor Fakih and Ali Fakih are believed to own and control Fakih for General Trade. From approximately January 2007 through early 2011, Khodor Fakih, Ali Fakih, and Fakih for General Trade wired approximately $2,589,325 to the U.S. relating to buying and shipping cars.

d. Fadi Hassan Hammoud and Mohammad Hassan Hammoud own and operate Fadi Star, a shipping company in Cotonou, Benin. Mohammad Hammoud is a Hizballah supporter from Kafra, Lebanon, and has done business with Khodor Fakih. From approximately January 2007 through early 2011, Fadi Star, Mohammad Hassan Hammoud, and Fadi Hassan Hammoud wired approximately $11,382,906 to the U.S. relating to buying and shipping cars.

KTUL seems to be the first local news outlet to pick up this story. They interviewed DEA Agent Derek Maltz:

He says the investigation is still ongoing and it's questionable whether or not the dealership owners knew they were helping Hezbollah.

"We do not have detailed specific information on what these car dealership owners knew we will investigate it jointly with our partners in the United States and hopefully we will shut them down," says Maltz.

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Bob said:

How could it be economical to ship a used car from Tulsa OK to Benin Africa?

For the average person in Benin to afford a used car, it would have to be a worn out wreck.

Why wouldn't someone just buy worn-out used cars from Italy or Spain, and then ship them the relatively much shorter distance to the African port?

I wonder if any cars actually got shipped from Tulsa to Africa....or it was all just a money laundering scheme laundering money from Iranian Quds Force to Hezbollah??

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 16, 2011 12:48 AM.

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