Washington: The United States on Monday offered a $10 million reward for information that would disrupt the finances of Lebanon’s Shiite militant movement Hezbollah. The State Department said it would give the money to anyone who provides intelligence that allows the United States to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways.
The areas include information on Hezbollah’s donors, on financial institutions that assist its transactions and on businesses controlled by the movement.
President Donald Trump’s administration has put a top priority on reducing the influence of Iran, the primary backer of Hezbollah.
The State Department listed three alleged Hezbollah financiers as examples of activities it was seeking to stop, with one, Ali Youssef Charara, allegedly funding the group by investing millions of dollars from Hezbollah in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.
In addition, the State Department has highlighted three individuals as key Hezbollah financiers or facilitators about whom it seeks information: Adham Tabaja, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Ali Youssef Charara.
Tabaja is a Hezbollah member who maintains direct ties to senior Hezbollah organizational elements, including the group’s operational component, Islamic Jihad. Bazzi is an important Hezbollah financier who has provided millions of dollars to the terrorist organization, generated from his business activities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Charara is also a key Hezbollah financier as chairman and general manager of the Lebanon-based telecommunications company Spectrum Investment Group Holding SAL. He has extensive business interests in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.
“We will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of information that will help us clamp down further on these individuals and on others they use to access the international financial system,” said Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea. “Either directly or via cash smuggling networks and other seemingly legitimate businesses and investments.
“We will pay for bank records, customs forms, real estate transactions, and anything evidencing money laundering or cash smuggling,” he continued. “The United States government is prepared to pay for this information, and we will award up to $10 million for leads that result in financial disruption – whether by US law enforcement sanctions or other enforcement actions.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pointed to a recent appeal by Hezbollah for donations as a sign of US success in curbing Iran.
On a visit last month to Beirut, Pompeo urged Lebanon to counter the “dark ambitions” of Iran and Hezbollah but was rebuffed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who said Hezbollah was not a terrorist group and enjoyed a wide base.
The United States has vowed for decades to fight Shiite militants in Lebanon, with memories still bitter over the 1983 attack on a military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.
Hezbollah, however, also functions as a political party, with posts in the current cabinet, and enjoys support among some Lebanese who recall its guerrilla campaign that led Israel to withdraw from the country in 2000.
The payments will be made by the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program that usually offers cash for information leading to the whereabouts of wanted terrorists. This is the first time the program has been used to target a financial network.
Since it began in 1984, Rewards for Justice has paid more than $150 million to more than 100 people who have provided information about terrorists or prevented terrorism attacks.
This is the first time that the State Department is using the program to harm the finances of a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US since 1997.
The announcement comes at a time that the administration is greatly concerned with the influence Hezbollah has in the Lebanese government. The Shiite organization has managed in recent years to increase its regional influence and dispatches its fighters to assist its allies throughout the Arab world.
Earlier, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah attacked the Trump administration for imposing further sanctions on Iranian oil exports. Iran is Hezbollah’s main sponsor.
Image: Trump and Nasrallah