The U.S. government claims Lebanese banks were involved in an elaborate money laundering scheme to benefit Hezbollah, and named 30 U.S. used car dealerships as participants in the plot, including one in Birmingham.
The government is looking for almost half a billion dollars in penalties, and claims the assets of the car dealerships are forfeitable under money laundering laws.
The plot involved $300 million that was wired from Lebanon and spent on buying used cars from the dealerships. The cars were then sent to Africa and sold there, with the proceeds being sent back to Lebanon, mingled with “the proceeds of narcotics and other crimes.”
Whether the dealerships knew of the Hezbollah connection is unclear.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, noted that Hezbollah members “facilitate the smuggling of cash, including proceeds from the sale of used cars exported from the United States and narcotics proceeds.”
Based in Lebanon, Hezbollah is deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government and is responsible for many of the deadliest terror attacks against the U.S. It established a “state within a state” in Lebanon, from which it fomented actions against Israel. A 2006 war was fought between Israel and Hezbollah.
The complaint noted that in 2006, narcotics trafficking has been “condoned through the issuance of fatwas by radical Islamic clerics” and has become a major source of revenue for Hezbollah.
World Auto Sales on Green Springs Avenue in Birmingham is mentioned in the complaint. Of the dealerships mentioned, World Auto has the second highest dollar total of wire transfers, with 490 transactions totaling $24,064,172.
According to the company website, World Auto Sales was founded in 1990 by Ahmad and Bassam Hammoud “to accommodate the growing need for quality wholesale and export vehicles to the World.”
The civil complaint comes two days after a criminal indictment. On Tuesday, Ayman Joumaa of Lebanon was indicted in abstentia in Virginia on drug and money laundering charges. He is said to be the ringleader of an international drug smuggling ring with ties to Hezbollah.