The Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah is reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of its large outlays on fighting in Syria and from the increasing squeeze of US sanctions on its revenue streams, though top members continue to pad their own wallets.
According to a report Friday in the German daily Die Welt, Hezbollah’s increasing financial difficulties have led the group to increasingly rely on a number illicit schemes to earn money, including money laundering, drug trafficking and counterfeiting, as well as through its substantial property holdings.
Despite $1 billion in aid that Israeli security officials estimate Hezbollah receives each year from its patron Iran, which is said to cover some 70 percent of the group’s annual finances, the increasing financial toll from its military involvement in Syria and lack of additional assistance from Tehran has forced the group to resort to extorting not only its “donors” in the country, but also Lebanese expatriates in Africa, South America, Europe and the United States, according to the report.
The blackmail has reportedly led to discontent within the Shiite group’s ranks and among its supporters, as Lebanese Shiites in the country have been forced into selling their assets and property in order to prop up Hezbollah and fund its operations.
In areas in southern and eastern Lebanon under its control, Hezbollah has also begun collecting tariffs on goods at border crossings with Syria in place of the Lebanese government, according to Die Welt.
While the fighting in Syria has greatly strained the group’s finances, the imposition of US sanctions last year on Lebanese banks that do business with the terror group is also said to have taken a toll, as Shiite businessmen in Lebanon have become increasingly reluctant to work with Hezbollah out of fear of American reprisal.
“Hezbollah has had to cast a wide net because most Lebanese banks have not wanted to do business with them,” a congressional expert on the legislation told AFP in 2015.
Despite its monetary troubles, Hezbollah has not cut funding for the extensive social programs it provides to large segments of Lebanon’s Shiite community or the payments it provides to the families of dead and injured fighters so as not to risk alienating the group’s support base.
Die Welt also reported that members of the terror group’s leadership have used Hezbollah funds for their own enrichment despite its dire fiscal situation, including the son of the organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, who is said to have taken money to fund a chain of coffee houses in Beirut.
In addition, Nasrallah himself is said to be worth some $250 million, according to Die Welt.
In a speech last year, Nasrallah brushed off reports that the group was in dire financial straits, saying that money was continuing to pour in from Tehran.
“We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said in June.
Iran was instrumental in Hezbollah’s inception three decades ago and has provided financial and military support to the group.
“As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it,” Nasrallah added.
AFP contributed to this report