The Hezbollah terror group bypasses US sanctions against Iran and launders many millions of dollars by playing a key role in the global drug trade into Europe, Israeli researchers said Monday.
The development came at the heels of a Daily Telegraph report Sunday that Britain had foiled Hezbollah efforts to stockpile explosives in London in 2015. The Kan public broadcaster reported that Israel’s Mossad spy agency provided British authorities with information that helped thwart the Hezbollah plan.
The new study, which focuses on the Iran-backed Lebanese group’s political wing and the ways it serves its military wing, also involved collaboration with spy agencies in Israel and around the world.
While Israel, the US, Britain, the Netherlands, the Arab League and others consider Hezbollah in its entirety a terror organization, the European Union blacklists only its military wing — not the political wing, which is heavily involved in Lebanese politics and is part of the government.
“We are showing how all the drug distribution works and supports money laundering,” Daniel Cohen of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya told Channel 12 news.
“These Hezbollah operatives are actually overseeing all the illicit finance and the drug trafficking activities, not just in Europe, but in South America, the Tri-Border region, moving about $200 million a month,” said former US Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Derek Maltz.
The study said Hezbollah personnel act as middlemen in the global drug route from South America to West Africa and from there to Europe, helping get hundreds of tons of cocaine and other drugs through ports in Belgium and Germany — with only 5-10 percent of it being intercepted.
“Our study links Hezbollah’s political wing with its military wing, and we went down to the field level and are showing how all the drug trafficking system supports money laundering,” Cohen said. “At least 20%-25% of the [profit] goes back to Hezbollah and is used for arming, weapon purchases, salaries and more.”
He added that a nephew of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Dusseldorf-based car trader Hassan Trabulsi, “in fact works for very senior people in Hezbollah’s money laundering operations.”
“They’ll buy used cars, they’ll buy luxury watches and jewelry, ship that stuff back into Lebanon to sell,” Maltz said. “Once it’s sold, they can pay the drug traffickers back in South America.
“So it is a trade-based money laundering scheme, generating millions and millions of dollars to help support these radical terrorists like Hezbollah,” he added.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s former UN ambassador and current head of the Abba Eban Institute, called on European authorities to “wake up” and take action against the scheme.
“Gentlemen, [it is happening] on your land,” he said. “And if you don’t wake up, you are in fact acting as this organization’s oxygen pipeline for terror activity, and don’t say ‘we weren’t aware.'”
The Telegraph report on Sunday revealing the stockpiling of explosives said that, acting on a tip from an unnamed foreign intelligence agency, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police raided four properties in North West London four years ago, discovering thousands of disposable ice packs containing three tons of ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in homemade bombs.
According to the report, the Hezbollah plot was part of a wider plan to lay the groundwork for future attacks. It noted foiled Hezbollah operations in Thailand, Cyprus, and New York. All those plots were believed to have targeted Israeli interests around the world.
The report said the raid came just months after the UK joined the US and other world powers in signing the Iran nuclear deal, and speculated that it was hushed up to avoid derailing the agreement with Tehran, which is the main patron of Hezbollah.
The US, under President Donald Trump, has since pulled out of the deal and hit Iran with fresh sanctions.
The paper also raised questions as to why the information was not revealed as the UK debated banning the entire Hezbollah organization earlier this year. In March, it finally declared Hezbollah’s political wing illegal after years of distinguishing it from its military wing.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.