BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — In a first, Argentina’s government has targeted a Hezbollah fundraising network in the northern Triple Frontier with Brazil and Paraguay.
The Financial Information Unit of the Argentine Republic investigated possible criminal actions by Lebanese citizens living in Argentina who could be involved in money laundering and financing terrorist acts.
Hezbollah has been linked to the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29. A Hezbollah suicide bomber carried out the 1994 attack, orchestrated by Iran, on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85.
The unit investigated the Barakat Group, also known as the Barakat Clan, a criminal organization linked to Hezbollah, which operates in the area known as the “Triple border” made up of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, led by Assad Ahmad Barakat.
As a result, Argentina’s government issued an administrative order freezing the assets and money of the group’s members, allowed by an article of the national Criminal Code related to financing terrorism.
Barakat, along with other people who operate at the tri-border area, has been designated a terrorist by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, of the Treasury Department of the United States, which means that his assets are frozen and he is unable to operate financially in the US.
The Triple Frontier between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is often mentioned as a place linked to Hezbollah and the Barakat group, and has been investigated over the last two decades as a source of money for Hezbollah and for other groups’ activities related to terrorism.
This is the first time that one of the three governments has frozen assets and funds from a Hezbollah-linked organization based in the Triple Frontier.
The Financial Information Unit identified at least 14 people linked to the Barakat Clan who registered multiple crossings to Argentina, mainly through the Tancredo Neves International Bridge, located in the Province of Misiones. Once in Argentina, the members of the clan would make, in a casino in Iguazú, charges for supposed prizes that together would exceed $10 million, without declaring either the income nor the discharge of funds when crossing the border.
The “strong hypothesis” of the unit is that once out of the country the money is transferred to Hezbollah.
According to a Financial Information Unit statement issued on Friday, the Barakat clan is involved in crimes of smuggling, falsification of money and documents, extortion, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering and terrorist financing. “In relation to this illegal act, it is suspected that it would raise funds for the Lebanese Hezbollah organization,” wrote the government agency. The accounts were frozen on Wednesday, according to the statement.
Argentina is home to a large Lebanese expat community and US authorities suspect groups in that community of raising funds through organized crime to support the Iranian-backed terror organization.
In 2006, the US Treasury targeted the same fundraising network.
Earlier this year, the US and Argentina agreed to work together to cut off Hezbollah funding networks and money laundering financing terrorism across Latin America.