Car dealers, transport firm in Michigan part of $480 million scheme tied to Hezbollah, feds said in December. This week, it announced seizure of $150 million in the case.

Yesterday (Aug. 21), the U.S. Attorney in New York announced the U.S. government had seized “$150 million in connection with a Hizballah-related money laundering scheme.” The case involves several businesses in Michigan, including a Redford transport company whose owner is a Hizballah operative, according to federal authorities. Story below is from December, when the U.S. government filed a lawsuit against the businesses.

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By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Press

Saturday, 12/24/2011

Eight car dealers in southeast Michigan, along with a Redford Township-based transport company, are part of a $480-million money laundering scheme tied to Mideast terrorist group Hizballah, federal prosecutors said.

According to a federal lawsuit filed in New York City, Oussama Salhab, the owner of Cybamar Swiss, the Redford Township transport company, “is a Hizballah operative” who was part of an effort to funnel part of the proceeds from car sales to the Lebanese group.

A manager at Cybamar said Friday that the owner was not available to comment.

The suit seeks the forfeiture of the assets of Cybamar. In addition, federal officials also sought the forfeiture of used car dealerships in Detroit, Dearborn Heights, Lansing and Redford Township that sold vehicles whose proceeds may have ended up going to Hizballah. Salhab bought vehicles from at least two of the dealerships.

The used car dealers are not accused in the federal complaint of being aware that they were part of a money laundering scheme and may have been unwitting participants.

The 66-page complaint, filed Dec. 15, is the latest U.S. effort to target Hizballah, a group based in Lebanon that the U.S. State Department classifies as a terrorist group and says has Iranian support. U.S. authorities say the group was behind bomb attacks against the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and 1984.

“We are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents, ” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara.

The complaint says that banks and money exchanges in Lebanon tied to Hizballah purchased cars from 30 car dealers – eight of them in metro Detroit – and sent them to west Africa. Proceeds from car sales ended up in Lebanon, with some of the cash going to Hizballah. Drug smuggling also was involved in some parts of the operation, the complaint said.

Salhab, who lives in Lebanon and the African country of Togo, tried to enter the U.S. in November 2009 through Metro Airport. He was sent back after inspectors found images on his laptop of Hizballah “Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah; audio of the Hizballah national anthem; images of Hizballah militants stomping on an Israeli flag, ” the lawsuit says.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com

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