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US set to release convicted Hezbollah financier

Supporters of the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah gather during a speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah on 13 August 2017 [Ali Dia/Anadolu Agency]
Supporters of Hezbollah gather during a speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah on 13 August 2017 [Ali Dia/Anadolu Agency]

A Lebanese-Belgian businessman convicted in the US for evading sanctions and financing Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group, is set to be freed on “compassionate release” over “serious health concerns”, the National reports.

Kassim Tajideen, 64, was arrested in Morocco in 2017 under an international warrant and extradited to the US. In December 2018, Tajideen pleaded guilty to evading sanctions and making illegal transactions worth nearly $1 billion. The Lebanese businessman was handed a five-year jail sentence and ordered to pay a $50 million fine in August 2019.

On 27 May, however, a judge order granted Tajideen “compassionate release” on medical grounds amid concerns over coronavirus.

A statement from the Lebanese businessman’s family was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying the court agreed to release Tajideen “because of the risks of [coronavirus] on his life should he remain in prison”.

Adding, “we are grateful to the Lebanese and US authorities for facilitating his return home.”

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Prosecutors have one month, until 27 June, to appeal the decision but have yet showed to do so, meaning Tajideen is set to be released over the weekend.

Al Arabiya added the decision was a “good-will gesture” after Beirut’s release of Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, who was allegedly involved in the torture and murder of inmates while serving in the Israeli-backed south Lebanon army, to the US earlier this year.

Fakhoury was reportedly diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma during his detention in Lebanon and received some treatment before he was airlifted home from the US Embassy in Beirut.

Al Arabiya quoted an unnamed but “authoritative source” as saying, “this has to do with the Fakhoury release. You did something nice for us, and we will do something nice for you”.

The National however, said US officials told reporters Tajideen’s release was part of a normal legal process, not a good-will prisoner exchange.

The report quoted a US State Department official as saying, “we have seen some inaccurate reports characterising this judicial action as good-will diplomacy or part of a back-room deal. Those reports are false”.

Adding, Tajideen’s pending release is “due to health concerns and removed from the United States does not diminish the severity of his crime”.

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