Hezbollah associate pleads guilty to money laundering conspiracy in US

The Brooklyn, New York, federal court, where the Hezbollah operative Joseph Asmar pleaded guilty. (Reuters)
Updated 29 May 2017
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Hezbollah associate pleads guilty to money laundering conspiracy in US

JEDDAH: A Lebanese man, accused of trying to use his ties to Hezbollah as part of a scheme to launder drug money, pleaded guilty on Friday in a Brooklyn, New York, federal court to a US money laundering and conspiracy charge.
US prosecutors said Joseph Asmar, 43, of Beirut, entered his plea at a hearing before US District Judge Eric Vitaliano.
Asmar was arrested in Paris in October 2015, and was extradited to the US 14 months later. He also faced a money laundering charge.
Aaron Altman, a lawyer for Asmar, said in an e-mail: “Joseph Asmar has taken responsibility for his actions and is anxious to move forward with his life. More than anything, he misses his family and prays that they will be reunited in the near future.” Hezbollah is a Shiite militia that the US Department of State has designated a foreign terrorist organization. Human rights organizations have accused Hezbollah, along with Bashar Assad’s men, of carrying out crimes against humanity.
Asmar was charged following what prosecutors said was a two-year sting operation in which he and a Lebanese businesswoman, Iman Kobeissi, had meetings with an undercover US Drug Enforcement Administration agent posing as a trafficker.
Prosecutors said Asmar claimed to be an attorney who boasted that his connections in European and Middle Eastern banks enabled him to launder money, and that he could use his Hezbollah connections to provide security for drug shipments.
Undercover agents provided $400,000 in alleged drug proceeds to Asmar and his co-conspirators, who laundered the money in exchange for a commission, prosecutors said.
Asmar faces up to 20 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set. Kobeissi’s case is still pending.
The US federal court’s decison was welcomed by Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, who described it as a step in the right direction.”This is Hezbollah’s modus operandi,” he told Arab News from Riyadh on Sunday. “They have been using drug money to finance their terror operations.”
He claims that in Lebanon, Hezbollah cultivates hashish and then smuggles it into different countries in order to make money.
“They have factories in South America, in Colombia and Venezuela to process this stuff,” he said. Al-Shehri said Hezbollah operatives find it easy to procure passports in South America in order to facilitate their entry into the US and other countries where they launder drug money. “(Joseph Asmar’s conviction) proves what was known about Hezbollah terror operations,” he said.
He said since the South American countries have good ties with Iran, “they leverage those connections to their advantage in carrying out their dirty work.”He appealed to the international community, especially the US, to continue to follow Hezbollah’s money trail in order to stop their terrorist operations.
“We need to drain the swamp with a view to stopping their terrorist activities,” he said. “This case will hopefully lead to more exposes and reveal all cartels linked with Hezbollah.”

— With input from Reuters


Website launched to support housing project in Saudi Arabia

The Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Housing are working together to provide the necessary services for citizens from different social classes. (SPA)
Updated 34 min 2 sec ago
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Website launched to support housing project in Saudi Arabia

  • Real estate financing for January hit SR4.7 billion, and coming months were expected to see even bigger figures, Al-Hogail told Reuters news agency on the sidelines of a housing conference in Riyadh

RIYADH: A new website has been set up to support a housing project for 10,000 units in the Kingdom.
Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail, and Commerce and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qassabi on Sunday launched Benaa Housing, which will help construction companies and contractors contribute to a development program in the Kingdom.
Benaa Housing aims to speed up the process of building 10,000 housing units in various parts of Saudi Arabia by enabling small and medium enterprises in the construction sector to access and contribute to projects and opportunities. The estimated cost of the project is SR3.5 billion ($910 million).
“The Ministry of Housing is always keen to provide adequate housing, solutions, and services suitable to all families, especially the beneficiaries of the Housing Development Program in all regions of the Kingdom,” Al-Hogail said.
Al-Qassabi said the new platform would generate more business opportunities for small and medium enterprises and provide suitable apartments for middle-class and lower-income families.
“The Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Housing are working together to provide the necessary services for citizens from different social classes and groups, and the new platform is the fruit of these efforts,” he added.
Earlier this month, the housing minister said he expected investments in the real estate financing sector to reach between SR60 billion and SR80 billion this year.
Real estate financing for January hit SR4.7 billion, and coming months were expected to see even bigger figures, Al-Hogail told Reuters news agency on the sidelines of a housing conference in Riyadh.
Saudi home ownership was growing between 6 and 7 percent annually, he said, adding that he hoped to raise home ownership to 15,000 new households per month by 2020, from a little over 10,000 per month now.
The ministry aims to increase housing ownership through policy and stimulating the private sector, according to its website.
The challenges facing the ministry are the limited availability of suitable units for all parts of the population; difficulty in accessing adequate housing finance; the inefficiency of the real estate sector and heavy reliance on government funding.
“Even though 47 percent of Saudi families already own their homes, we aim to increase this rate by 5 percentage points by 2020,” the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan states. Vision 2030 also aims to speed up construction and provide Saudis with high-quality, competitively priced housing, and to stimulate localization of the country’s construction industry.