The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a Lebanese man, known for a vast art collection and ties to the “blood diamond” trade, for laundering substantial amounts of money for Hizballah.

Nazem Said Ahmad, a diamond dealer, has a collection of art worth tens of millions of dollars, including works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, many of which have been on display at his gallery and penthouse in Beirut, the Treasury said. He also is a prominent Lebanon-based money launderer and a significant Hizballah financier, according to the Treasury.

Ahmad has been involved in blood diamond smuggling and ran businesses in Belgium that benefited Hizballah, the Treasury said. Saleh Assi, who is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has laundered money through Ahmad’s diamond businesses, the Treasury said. Both men have maintained relations with key Hizballah associates, according to the Treasury.

“Hizballah continues to use seemingly legitimate businesses as front companies to raise and launder funds in countries like the DRC where it can use bribery and political connections to secure unfair market access and evade taxes,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

Ahmad was considered as of late 2016 a major Hizballah financial donor who laundered money through his companies for the group and personally provided funds to Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, according to the Treasury. Hizballah was designated in 1997 as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). Nasrallah has been sanctioned since 1995.

Ahmad also has ties to several Hizballah associates, including Kassim Tajideen and Mohammed Bazzi, and he was involved in a bank loan in early 2019 with Adham Tabaja, according to the Treasury. Tajideen was sentenced in August in the U.S. to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million after pleading guilty to laundering money tied to sanctions evasion. Bazzi was sanctioned in May 2018 for providing financial support to Hizballah.

Assi has provided tens of millions of dollars in financial support over the past decade to Tabaja, who was sanctioned in June 2015 for his ties to senior Hizballah officials and to Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), Hizballah’s external operations unit, the Treasury said. Tabaja’s brother, Hassan Tabaja, and Bazzi’s son Wael Bazzi were sanctioned in April.

In addition to the designations of Ahmad and Assi, the Treasury also sanctioned companies associated with them. And Treasury identified a yacht, the Flying Dragon, as blocked property associated with Assi. He transferred millions of euros to pay for Flying Dragon by using a business account associated with his Lebanon-based company Inter Aliment SAL, the Treasury said. Tony Saab, a Lebanon-based accountant and an employee of Inter Aliment, was also sanctioned on Friday.

The latest sanctions designations came ahead of a scheduled trip to Lebanon by David Hale, under secretary of State for political affairs, according to a media report. Protests broke out in Lebanon in October, and the prime minister stepped down. Fitch Ratings said this week, when lowering the country’s credit rating, that Lebanon may default on its debts due to the political stalemate in Beirut amid an ongoing economic crisis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intervened Thursday to order the release of USD 115 million in aid to Lebanon.

Hizballah and its affiliates engage in economic activity that prioritizes its economic interests over those of the country’s people, according to the Treasury. To that end, the Treasury said Ahmad used bulk-cash transfers and illicit transactions to protect his assets from taxation, depriving the Lebanese government of needed revenue.

Some of Ahmad’s personal funds are stored in high-value art as a preemptive attempt to mitigate the effects of U.S. sanctions, and he opened a gallery in Beirut as a front to launder money, according to the Treasury.

The Treasury also issued guidance Friday advising galleries, museums, private collectors and others in the art community about their obligations to comply with U.S. counterterrorism sanctions regulations, and to implement risk-based compliance programs. In addition, the art industry must deny access to artwork held on behalf of a sanctioned party, and it must report the asset to the federal government, the Treasury said in the guidance.

“An adequate compliance solution will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of business involved, and there is no single compliance program or solution suitable for every circumstance,” the Treasury said. “Depending on the scale, sophistication, and risk profile of your business, you may consider one of the numerous commercially available screening software packages.”

Source » kharon