Washington: The US accused the Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank of laundering money for alleged cocaine trafficker Ayman Joumaa, and linked the Islamist movement Hezbollah to the bank`s illegal activities.
The US Treasury said it would move to prohibit US financial institutions from working with the bank, which it said was tied to Joumaa`s international syndicate that laundered "hundreds of millions of dollars monthly" in cash from the drugs trade.
"Drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa and his Lebanon-based drug trafficking and money laundering network, along with several other individuals, have used LCB to launder narcotics proceeds -- as much as USD 200 million per month-- as part of this international money laundering network," the Treasury said in a statement.
It said the bank laundered money via the global trade in consumer goods as well as US used-car dealerships.
"At least one of the individuals involved in this global drug trafficking and money laundering network has worked directly with LCB managers to conduct his transactions," it said.
The statement said Washington had information that Hezbollah, which the US has branded a terrorist group, "derived financial support" from Joumaa`s network -- which spans Latin America, West Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
It linked Hezbollah to the bank inside Lebanon as well as in Iran and in Africa. An LCB subsidiary in Gambia, Prime Bank, "is partially owned by a Lebanese individual known to be a supporter of Hezbollah”, the Treasury said.
The Treasury moves came as a Hezbollah-backed billionaire businessman, prime-minister-designate Najib Mikati, attempts to form a new government in the deeply divided country.
The US has warned that Hezbollah`s moving into a bigger role in the Lebanese government could harm ties between the two long-time allies.
LCB, which reported assets of USD 6.1 million for 2010, operates 35 branches in Lebanon and, despite its name, only has a representative office in Canada, in Montreal.
It was the second move in two weeks by Washington against Joumaa`s alleged drug syndicate. On January 26, Treasury slapped sanctions against Joumaa, at least nine other people, and 19 entities, forbidding US citizens and businesses from trading with the group, and freezing its US assets.
The group is said to have sold multi-ton shipments of cocaine from South America, laundering the proceeds in Europe and the Middle East via foreign-exchange businesses.