U.S. authorities have accused a Lebanese man of selling Colombian cocaine to the Zetas and laundering money on their behalf, while using the profits to finance Hezbollah, a militant group based in Beirut.
According to the latest indictment, Ayman Joumaa, aka “Junior,” (pictured) and his partners sold 85 tons of cocaine to the Zetas between 2005-2007, which was later trafficked into the U.S., and laundered some $850 million in their profits for the group, some of it through the Lebanese Canadian Bank. The latest charges do not mention Hezbollah, though Joumaa was accused earlier this year by the Treasury of being part of a drug trafficking and money laundering ring which financed the group, reports ProPublica.
According to the indictment, Joumaa’s group would charge the Zetas 8 to 14 percent for its money laundering services.
The story speaks to some of the U.S.’s worst fears about its enemies in the Middle East gaining ground in Latin America. ABC points out that
U.S. officials have long known about [Hezbollah] operating in South America’s tri-border area in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina where the group runs drugs and large scale counterfeiting networks, according to U.S. officials. In recent years there has been more recent concern about the group establishing a footprint in Central America.
Slate looks at the other side of the deal, pointing out that Lebanon would be a good place for the Zetas to launder money, as it has highly secretive banking regulations, while there is a large Lebanese community in Mexico, with links to the Lebanese banking sector.
The case is reminiscent of a supposed plot revealed by U.S. authorities in October, which involved a representative of the Iranian intelligence service making contact with people he thought were members of the Zetas, in order to order a hit against Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington. As with that case, which did not quite add up, it is worth treating with caution attempts to link Mexican trafficking groups to Muslim militants, which have often appeared to be more based on Washington’s fears than on evidence.
However, U.S. officials were cautious about asserting direct links between the two groups in the latest case, pointing out that “It’s not like there’s a sit-down between the leaders of Hezbollah and the Zetas," as ProPublica reports.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.