Hezbollah Latin America, also known as Hezbollah Venezuela, whose primary source of income is narcotics trafficking, operates in concert with a specific, and very efficient, local criminal organization, which includes several senior Venezuelan government officials, going all the way up to the ministerial and gubernatorial levels. The involvement of these senior officials guarantees that not only will local law enforcement not interfere with their operations, but they will actively assist in protecting the transport of contraband outside the country.
Those Venezuelan officials, who have ethnic roots in the Middle East, assist in securing identity cards, known as Cédulas, and Venezuelan passports, for arriving Hezbollah cadre, who can then dispose of their Lebanese and Syrian passports. Some even assume Spanish surnames, and begin to blend into the multi-ethnic fabric of Latin America, making their travel into the United States a clear and present threat.
Since, in essence, US law enforcement agencies (and foreign investigative journalists) are barred from the country, little actionable intelligence exists on the overall operation, but some details are available. The proceeds of those drug sales are bulk cash shipped, usually on business jets based in Caracas, right into Panama's principal private aviation airport, turned over to their local representatives, who then deposit it in Panamanian banks controlled by the local Syrian organized crime group. Some money is smuggled in by cash couriers, known as testaferros
The funds are subsequently transmitted to the Middle East, and to make purchases in international trade to assist Iran. Some observers have estimated that the cocaine profits represent a major portion of Hezbollah's annual budgetary needs.
While the leader of Hezbollah Latin America, the Lebanese national, Ghazi Atef Nasserdine*, has been an OFAC Specially Designated Global Terrorist [SDGT] since 2008, I find that none of the other roughly one hundred cadre known to me have been sanctioned. This means that they are free to travel internationally, open bank accounts in the US and the EU, and move money through them, with impunity. Some cadre have been assigned "V," for Venezolano, Cédula [National Identity Card] numbers, which establishes them as Venezuelan nationals, and allows them to get Venezuelan passports.Whether any of them now reside in North America, or in Western Europe, is not known.
The Hezbollah agents in Venezuela have an additional asset: There are approximately thirty associates that they work with, who are legitimate Venezuelan nationals; consider them to be the functional equivalent of associates working with traditional Italian organized crime (Mafia) in the United States. Bankers in the United States dealing with these associates are at a distinct disadvantage, not known that they are serving front men for a terrorist organization.
What is most disturbing is that Hezbollah's money laundering network, moving in and through the Republic of Panama, is freely operating, notwithstanding that the organization has been designated as a terrorist organization by a number of countries. Are not at least some of the participants not known to law enforcement agencies in these countries ? It is past time for some law enforcement agency to terminate the ongoing Hezbollah financial pipeline, Caracas-Panama-Beirut, with side trips to Tehran, and to charge the guilty banks in Panama City with providing financial support to a terrorist organization. Panama certainly will not police its own house; I leave it up to others to do so.
*Ghazi Atef Nasserdine, Cédula No. E-82146374. The "E" prefix establishes him as an Estranjero, or foreign national, residing in Venezuela. His wife, Samar Abdulhadi Nasserdin, Cédula No. E-81756782, has not been designated by OFAC. Most Venezuelan government agencies separate the digits with periods, which would render it thus: 81.756.782 . Ghazi Nasserdine also has a Venezuelan citizen Cédula, which is V-82.146.374 . Obviously, Hezbollah can have its agents designated as citizens upon request.
Note: Venezuelan law requires that individuals over the age of 18, who are applying for their Cédula for the first time, must produce a valid birth certificate, and also attest to the reason why they waited so long to obtain one. A Venezuelan usually obtains their Cédula when they have attained the age of nine, or shortly thereafter. That may render all the Cédulas, and the subsequent passports, obtained through the production of a fraudulent birth certificate and Cédula, as void, on their face.