Creating new perspectives since 2009

Romania arrests alleged Hezbollah financier, will extradite him to US

February 26, 2023 at 10:42 am

Fighters of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah [ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images]

A man who is allegedly a major financier of the Iran-backed militant organisation Hezbollah has been arrested in Romania before his extradition to the United States, five years after Washington designated him as a “global terrorist.”

Romanian authorities arrested 58-year-old Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi after he arrived in the capital Bucharest yesterday, and will reportedly be extradited to the US on charges of financing Hezbollah with millions of dollars through his business activities in Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, and west Africa.

The Lebanese and Belgian citizen was designated a “global terrorist” by the US in 2018, with $10 million offered for information on his whereabouts. That designation effectively forbade all Americans from conducting business or transactions with Bazzi or for his benefit.

Despite that, Bazzi and another Lebanese citizen – 78-year-old Talal Chahine – concocted a variety of methods to hide their activity from law enforcement and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), including the transfer of funds through a third party in China as part of a fictional purchase of restaurant equipment and a third party in Lebanon as part of a fabricated real estate purchase.

Read: US sanctions Lebanon money exchanger for alleged ties to Hezbollah

Another method was the attempt to funnel money through Chahine’s family members in Kuwait as part of fabricated intra-family loans, as well as part of a fictitious franchising agreement as payment for the rights to operate a Lebanese-based restaurant chain throughout the US.

According to US Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn, the charges through which the extradition of Bazzi and Chahine will be carried out are contained in an indictment returned to Brooklyn’s federal court last month. “As alleged, Mohammad Bazzi thought that he could secretly move hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States to Lebanon without detection by law enforcement. Today’s arrest proves that Bazzi was wrong,” Peace stated. “Our office is committed to ensuring that sanctions imposed by the US government are respected and that terrorism financiers are starved of funds.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Daniel Kafafian, also stated that “The defendants in this case attempted to provide continued financial assistance to Hizballah, a foreign terrorist organization responsible for death and destruction.” He insisted that the “men and women of DEA are committed to working with our law enforcement and foreign counterparts to disrupt and dismantle the operations of these organizations and those who choose to support them financially.”