December 12th, 2018

War on Jihad

Accused Hezbollah financier pleads guilty in plot to evade US sanctions

Spencer S. Hsu

By Spencer S. Hsu The Washington Post

Published Dec. 7, 2018

Accused Hezbollah financier pleads guilty in plot to evade US sanctions
A Lebanese businessman accused of helping finance Hezbollah pleaded guilty Thursday to committing roughly $1 billion in unlawful transactions since 2009 in a deal with federal prosecutors that calls for five years in prison and a forfeiture of $50 million.

Kassim Tajideen, 63, is a Lebanese-Belgian citizen who headed a multibillion-dollar commodities shipping empire from Beirut. He was arrested and charged in March 2017 with evading U.S. government sanctions imposed after he was added in 2009 to a Treasury Department list targeting supporters of the Iran-backed terrorist organization.

In federal court in Washington, Tajideen pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He has been held since he was arrested in Morocco March 2017 in the at Casablanca's airport while traveling on business from Guinea to Beirut.

His plea is contingent on court approval.

The rest of an 11-count indictment against him was dismissed, including conspiracy and fraud charges related to alleged violations of Treasury sanctions that banned Tajideen from dealings with U.S. businesses.

U.S. authorities called Tajideen's guilty plea a victory in efforts to increase financial pressure against Hezbollah, which has been a U.S.-designated terrorist organization since 1997 and has fought in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's in that country's civil war and with armed insurgents against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Tajideen was involved in a family business that has dominated poultry and rice markets, amassed real estate, and was reportedly active in construction and the diamond trade in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and western Africa, according to the Wall Street Journal. Tajideen settled in Sierra Leone with his family in 1976, the Journal reported.

Tajideen has denied financing Hezbollah and supporting terrorism or political violence. He said he had been providing information to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control seeking to undo what he called his meritless placement on the sanctions list.

In court Thursday, U.S. prosecutors agreed not to present evidence of Tajideen's support in sentencing papers other than his 2009 Treasury listing, and the defendant agreed not to ask to rebut it, but both said his listing was sufficient to prove he violated the law.

Both sides also agreed to waive a full pre-sentencing investigation by U.S. probation officials into Tajideen's background, relying on one provided by Lebanese authorities.

Prosecutors also agreed not to prosecute Tajideen's wife and four children.

Tajideen admitted in the plea agreement to engaging in up to $1 billion in transactions cleared through the U.S. financial system that were barred under sanctions laws, and wiring at least $30 million to unwitting U.S. vendors for what Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Gillice has said were purchases of poultry and grains, and an order for somesmall safes from a California company.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of Washington approved a 17-page plea agreement and set sentencing for Jan. 18. Walton said he would accept the plea once the defense led by Tajideen's attorney William Taylor agreed to drop an appeal involving extradition, which the defense agreed to do.

U.S. officials said Tajideen's prosecution capped "Project Cassandra," a three-year investigation into Hezbollah's global logistics and financing arm that was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and aided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In charging papers, prosecutors alleged Tajideen secretly restructured his business, used new business names and misrepresented ownership to buy food commodities and security equipment. They contend that occurred through his United Arab Emirates-based Epsilon Trading Fze and International Cross Trade Company, and a supply chain of companies registered in the Congo, Gambia and Angola.

The United States accused Tajideen of concealing his activities when he had claimed to be in compliance with sanction controls in representations he made to Treasury authorities in July 2010, December 2012 and April 2014.