ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Key Hezbollah financier, a ‘global terrorist,’ faces charges in New York

Mohammad Bazzi extradited from Romania, arraigned in federal court for alleged financial fraud and conspiracy; investigators say he funneled millions to Lebanese terror group

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Hezbollah supporters wave portraits of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and their group flags, during an election campaign, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Hezbollah supporters wave portraits of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and their group flags, during an election campaign, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

NEW YORK — An alleged financier for the Hezbollah terrorist organization was arraigned in a federal court in New York City on Wednesday.

Mohammad Bazzi has been accused of funneling millions of dollars to the Lebanese terror group. The US Justice Department branded him a “key financier” of the organization.

He was arrested in Romania and indicted on US charges in February, and extradited to the US on Tuesday.

The US Treasury in 2018 classified Bazzi as a “specially designated global terrorist” for assisting in, sponsoring, and providing financial, material, and technological support and financial services to Hezbollah, the US Attorney’s Office said.

The US had offered a $10 million reward for information about his whereabouts.

Bazzi, 58, has been indicted on three counts related to conspiring to finance a terrorist group, and money laundering conspiracy. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison.

He allegedly provided Hezbollah with millions of dollars he made through business activities in Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq and West Africa. Bazzi is a citizen of Lebanon and Belgium. It wasn’t clear why he traveled to Romania before his arrest.

Bazzi and another defendant in the case, Talal Chahine, allegedly first began a scheme in 2007 that involved using a restaurant chain in Michigan to conceal their assets.

Bazzi was designated as a terror supporter in 2018 and blocked from accessing his US assets or doing business with American entities.

He and Chahine then allegedly conspired to force someone in the US to liquidate real estate assets connected to the restaurant chain and covertly transfer the funds to Lebanon to evade the sanctions.

The defendants allegedly discussed concealing the transaction from US authorities in several ways, including by making fake purchases of restaurant equipment from a Chinese company, inventing a fictitious loan to family in Kuwait, faking a real estate deal in Beirut, or creating a fake franchise agreement for opening a Lebanese restaurant chain in the US.

In 2019, Bazzi and Chahine decided to fraudulently transfer around $860,000 to Lebanon for the fictitious restaurant chain, according to the indictment.

The defendants kept up communications about the illegal transactions with individuals in the US through the start of this year, investigators said.

US law enforcement officials said Bazzi and Chahine were caught in recorded conversations proposing different methods to conceal the illegal transactions from US authorities.

The case is being handled in New York’s federal Eastern District Court. Some of Bazzi and Chahine’s communications and correspondence went through the court’s jurisdiction.

Romanian law enforcement took Bazzi into custody in February after he arrived in Bucharest.

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