US seizes $150m 'linked to Hezbollah money-laundering'

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Hezbollah rally in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut on 17 August 2012
Image caption,
Hezbollah is classified by the US as a terrorist group

The US authorities say they have seized $150m (£95m) from a bank allegedly linked to a money-laundering scheme of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Last year, US officials accused the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) of helping the group launder profits from drug trafficking and other crimes.

The funds were allegedly used to ship cars from the US to West Africa, with the proceeds smuggled back to Lebanon.

The US classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

"As we alleged last year, the Lebanese Canadian Bank played a key role in facilitating money laundering for Hezbollah-controlled organisations across the globe," the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, was quoted saying on Monday by the AFP news agency.

In December 2011, US prosecutors filed a lawsuit alleging that the LCB and two other firms used $300m (£193m) in drug-trafficking and criminal proceeds from Lebanon to buy used cars in the US and sell them in West Africa.

Money from the sale of the cars, along with the proceeds of Colombian and Mexican cartels, was then funnelled to Lebanon through Hezbollah-controlled money-laundering channels, according to the US Attorney's Office.

At the time, Hezbollah dismissed the allegations as US propaganda.

"Our relentless pursuit of global criminal networks showed that the US banking system was exploited to launder drug-trafficking funds through West Africa and into Lebanon," Ms Leonhart said.

"DEA and our partners are attacking these groups and their financial infrastructure, while establishing clear links between drug trafficking proceeds and terrorist funding."

Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist movement, was designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US government in 1997.