‘Lebanese Connection’ drug trial to open in Paris

France, where several of the defendants reside, was identified as being at the center of the syndicate’s operations in Europe. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018
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‘Lebanese Connection’ drug trial to open in Paris

  • The chief defendant is Mohamad Noureddine, a 44-year-old Lebanese businessman with interests in real estate and jewelry
  • The trial is scheduled to wind up on Nov. 28

PARIS: Fifteen alleged members of a vast crime ring accused of laundering Colombian drug money through luxury jewelry and using shadowy middlemen from the Lebanese diaspora go on trial in Paris on Tuesday.
The chief defendant is Mohamad Noureddine, a 44-year-old Lebanese businessman with interests in real estate and jewelry.
He was arrested in France in January 2016 during police raids that also took place in Italy, Belgium and Germany, after an alert from the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
US officials, who have imposed sanctions on Noureddine over his supposed links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, suspect the network of operating between South America, Europe and the Middle East since 2012.
They identified France, where several of the defendants reside, as being at the center of the syndicate’s operations in Europe.
The proceeds of cocaine sales were allegedly collected in Europe, then channelled to Lebanon before being transferred to Colombian traffickers.
The funds were moved using a centuries-old system of payment dating from the spice trade called “hawala,” passing through a tested network requiring ironclad trust.
Hawala operators also offer the advantage of leaving no trace of the transactions.
A few months after Noureddine’s arrest US police detained the suspected head of the network, Mohamad Ammar, in Florida on charges that he illegally moved hundreds of thousands of dollars into Miami banks.
Ammar, who regularly shuttled between California and Colombia’s second city Medellin, has since admitted his ties to Colombian drug cartels, prosecutors say.
Investigators in the “Lebanese Connection” inquiry, also dubbed the “Cedar Affair” after Lebanon’s national tree, suspect a main client was a Colombian drug king known as El Chapulin who shipped large quantities of cocaine to Europe.
After the drugs were sold, the network used hawala operatives to gather the proceeds, employing well established techniques such as regularly changing mobile phones, coded language and hiding money in cars.
Investigators listening in on phone conversations deduced that a “Mercedes 250” referred to a pickup of 250,000 euros, while a “truck” referred to one million euros.
The “oven” was a reference to the Netherlands, and Belgium was known as the “mill.”
The collected cash was then used to buy luxury jewelry, watches and cars which were resold in Lebanon or West Africa.
The freshly laundered funds were transferred to the Colombians through currency exchange or money transfer bureaus.
Noureddine has admitted to organizing pickups of cash but pleaded ignorance about the provenance of the funds.
He has staunchly denied that some of the money could have been destined for Hezbollah as the DEA has suggested.
William Julie, a lawyer for one of the defendants who is familiar with cross-border cases handled by both US and European investigators, said such cooperation is “indispensable” but often leads only to “second-tier individuals who shouldn’t be caught up in the crackdown.”
His client, who is considered close to Noureddine, has strongly denied any wrongdoing. He was detained for 18 months before being freed on bail.
None of the defendants have criminal records.
The trial is scheduled to wind up on November 28.


Philippines’ Duterte in war of words over Canada garbage row

Updated 17 min 10 sec ago
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Philippines’ Duterte in war of words over Canada garbage row

  • The Philippines has urged Canada to take back scores of garbage containers shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014, alleging they contain toxic waste
  • Ottawa has said it had no authority to compel a private shipper to return the shipment to Canada

PORAC, Philippines: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday demanded Canada take back tons of trash it had illegally shipped to Manila or risk “war,” in the latest incident to strain bilateral ties.
The Philippines has urged Canada to take back scores of garbage containers shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014, alleging they contain toxic waste.
But Ottawa has said it had no authority to compel a private shipper to return the shipment to Canada.
Speaking to officials during a visit north of Manila, an area ravaged by an earthquake on Monday, Duterte said he did not care if his stance on the issue turned the two countries into enemies.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out, or I will set sail for Canada and dump their garbage back there,” he said.
“Let’s fight Canada. I will declare war against them,” added the president, who frequently uses coarse language and hyperbole in public speeches about opponents.
The garbage is among several festering issues that have soured ties between the two governments.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been among the most vocal critics of the domestic drug war waged by Duterte, who was elected in 2016.
Philippine police say they have killed nearly 5,000 alleged drug users and pushers who fought against arrest in the crackdown, while rights groups say the true toll is at least triple that and may amount to crimes against humanity.
Last year Duterte angrily canceled the Philippine military’s $235 million contract to buy 16 military helicopters from a Canada-based manufacturer after the Trudeau government put the deal under review because of the president’s human rights record.