US President Barack Obama’s administration said that it was hitting two Lebanese-Colombian men and dozens of companies they run with sanctions for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.
Officials said on Thursday that one of the companies was tied to an alleged drug kingpin who has been accused of running a money-laundering scheme on behalf of the militant group Hezbollah.
The move blocks any assets in the US belonging to Lebanese-Colombian nationals Jorge Fadlallah Cheaitelly and Mohammed Zouheir El Khansa, and blocks Americans from doing business with them.
Panamanian and Colombian authorities did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The US Treasury Department said Cheaitelly leads a Panama-based drug trafficking and money laundering organization with operations as far as Hong Kong. El Khansa is seen as a key partner.
The department also applied sanctions to nine people with ties to the men, and 28 entities in Colombia, Panama, Lebanon and Hong Kong.
The companies placed under US sanction include electronics stores, luggage outlets and several money-exchange businesses.
Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Adam Szubin said the US was forcing a major money laundering network out of the international financial system, undermining its ability to help the cartels.
According to the Treasury Department, Cheaitelly has ties with Ayman Joumaa, who has been indicted in US federal court on charges of leading a drug conspiracy that provided income for Hezbollah, which has been designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organization since 1997.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has alleged that Joumaa’s organization laundered money using 50 used car lots in the US. Cars were exported to Lebanon and West Africa.