Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Supermarket in Gambia front for Hezbollah: US

Reuters, BANJUL

The Kairaba Shopping Center in Gambia’s Serrekunda beach resort, is the biggest supermarket in mainland Africa’s smallest nation. Its clientele of wealthy locals, tourists and expatriates set it apart from the local markets where most ordinary Gambians shop.

However, the US Treasury Department sees something more sinister behind the facade of the supermarket and its twin at the nearby Kololi resort. The Kairaba chain and its Banjul-based parent company, Tajco Ltd, were placed under US sanctions in December 2010 for allegedly forming part of a multinational network that investigators said generated millions of US dollars for the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah.

The US Treasury Department says Tajco and its ventures are controlled by Lebanese brothers Ali, Husayn and Kassim Tajideen, whom it describes as being among Hezbollah’s top financiers in Africa.

It is for these distinctions that Karaiba and Tajco set off alarms when Everett Stern, working last year with HSBC Holdings PLC’s US anti-money laundering operation, was sifting through potentially suspicious transactions.

Washington’s December 2010 sanctions targeted a network of businesses owned or controlled by the Tajideen brothers operating in Gambia, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the British Virgin Islands.

“The food import and supermarket business is a specialty of theirs. It is a lucrative and cash-rich business which allows them to generate revenues, create smoke and mirrors and launder money from other activities,” one US intelligence source who monitors Gambia said.

Husayn Tajideen, who is identified by the Treasury as a co-owner of Tajco Ltd, is a prominent businessman and investor in Gambia.

Tajco Ltd was also named in December last year in a forfeiture action and civil money laundering complaint brought by US prosecutors against the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB). US investigators identified the bank as “a financial institution of primary money laundering concern.” Last year, Societe Generale de Banque au Liban completed the acquisition of certain assets and liabilities of LCB.

Last year’s case stems from an investigation by the US DEA and other federal agencies of an alleged money laundering scheme involving Hezbollah members. US officials say these parties transferred funds from Lebanon to the US in order to buy used cars that were then shipped to West Africa and sold for cash. According to the complaint, cash proceeds of these car sales were then transferred to Lebanon.

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