Argentina freezes assets of suspected Hezbollah fundraising network


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — In a first, Argentina has frozen the assets of a suspected Hezbollah fundraising network in the area known as the Triple Frontier with Brazil and Paraguay.

The Financial Information Unit of Argentina investigated possible criminal actions by Lebanese citizens living in the country that could be involved in money laundering and financing terrorist acts.

Hezbollah has been linked to the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29, and the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85.

The investigation into the Barakat Group, also known as the Barakat Clan — a criminal organization linked to Hezbollah led by Assad Ahmad Barakat — resulted in an administrative order freezing the assets and money of its members under the national criminal code related to financing terrorism.

This is the first time that one of the three governments has frozen assets and funds from a Hezbollah-linked organization based in the Triple Frontier.

The Financial Information Unit identified at least 14 people linked to the Barakat Clan who registered multiple crossings to Argentina, mainly through the Tancredo Neves International Bridge in the Misiones province. Once in Argentina, the clan members would cash in charges at a casino in Iguazú exceeding $10 million without declaring either the income nor the discharge of funds when crossing the border.

“In relation to this illegal act, it is suspected that it would raise funds for the Lebanese Hezbollah organization,” the government agency wrote. The accounts were frozen on Wednesday, according to the statement.

According to a Financial Information Unit statement issued Friday, the Barakat Clan is involved in smuggling, falsifying of money and documents, extortion, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Triple Frontier often is mentioned as a place linked to Hezbollah and the Barakat group, and has been investigated over the past two decades as a source of money for Hezbollah and other groups’ activities related to terrorism.

Barakat, along with others who operate in the tri-border area, has been designated a terrorist by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, of the Treasury Department of the United States, which means that his assets are frozen there as well and that he is unable to operate financially in the U.S.

Argentina is home to a large Lebanese expatriate community and U.S. authorities suspect groups in that community of raising funds through organized crime to support the Iranian-backed terror organization. In 2006, the U.S. Treasury targeted the same fundraising network.

Earlier this year, the U.S. and Argentina agreed to work together to cut off Hezbollah funding networks and money laundering financing terrorism across Latin America.

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