U.S. authorities are building a politically explosive case that Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, finances itself through a vast drug-smuggling network that links a Lebanese bank, a violent Mexican cartel, and U.S. cocaine users.
Federal prosecutors Tuesday charged Ayman Joumaa, an accused Lebanese drug kingpin and Hezbollah financier, of smuggling tons of U.S.-bound cocaine and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars with the Zetas cartel of Mexico.
The indictment in Virginia results from a continuing investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration targeting Hezbollah, which has a bloody history of terror attacks against the United States and Israel.
Now a powerful partner in Lebanon's government, Hezbollah presents itself as a legitimate political party and rejects allegations of terrorism. But Tuesday's case reflects increasing concern that Hezbollah and its ally, Iran's intelligence service, are expanding their presence in Latin America as conflict with the West intensifies over Iran's nuclear program.
Hezbollah allegedly uses the cocaine trade to develop revenue and build foreign networks, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials. In October, the Justice Department charged an Iranian-American resident of Texas and two Iranian intelligence officers with plotting to hire Mexican cartel gunmen to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.