BEIRUT: 11 Lebanese commercial banks have found themselves in hot water for allegedly providing material support to Hezbollah "in the form of financial and banking services" after a group of U.S citizens filed a joint lawsuit in the state of New York seeking unspecified damages.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Brooklyn, accuses the banks of giving Hezbollah access to the "United States financial system through their respective correspondent banking accounts in New York."
The suit also alleges that the banks in questions "were (and are) aware of their vital role in assisting Hezbollah in its illicit activities, including money laundering (both cross-border electronic funds transfers and physical bulk-transfers of banknotes), sanctions evasion, arms export violations, drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, and terrorist financing."
The banks being sued are Blom Bank, Bank Audi, SGBL, Jammal Trust Bank, Fransabank, Byblos Bank, Bank of Beirut, Lebanon and Gulf Bank, Banque Libano Francais, MEAB Bank of Lebanon and BBAC.
They are all being accused of "purposefully and deliberately" using their New York correspondent banks to “clear” U.S. dollar-denominated transactions on behalf of Hezbollah on an ongoing and recurring basis from 2004 and 2011.
These financial services, the suit alleges, facilitated Hezbollah's "terrorist activities" in Iraq, resulting in the death and injuries of a number of plaintiffs and their relatives.
The banks are cited in providing financial services to Hezbollah's Business Affairs Component, which oversees Hezbollah’s worldwide "criminal and commercial enterprises" through a large number of businesses.
For instance, one bank is listed as maintaining accounts for a wide range of Hezbollah entities including Ovlas Trading (Offshore) SAL, Spectrum International Investment Holding SAL, Teltac World Wide Incorporated (Offshore) SAL, Al-Hadi Institution; and Medical Equipment and Drugs International Corporation SAL (a/k/a MEDIC), among others.
Ovlas Trading (Offshore) SAL was first designated by the U.S. Department of the U.S. Department of the Treasury on December 9, 2010, with its chairman Ahmad Hassan Tajideen is also a Special Designated Terrorist.
Meanwhile, City Pharma SARL, a "Hezbollah-controlled pharmaceutical distributor also involved in counterfeit drug smuggling," is alleged to hold accounts in two of the prominent accused banks.
Over 100 families, who suffered losses in Iraq as a result of alleged Hezbollah operations, have launched the lawsuit.
The Association of Lebanese Banks is expected to take on the case and represent the financial institutions in question and released a statement Friday throwing its support behind the embattled banks.
"A similar suit was brought forth following the 2006 war with Israel before being rejected by a New York court," the statement read, adding that "the necessary legal proceedings are been taken."
In a separate case, a group of U.S. citizens is suing the same banks in New York for also providing similar financial services to Hezbollah. The civil action was brought on behalf of the estate of American national David Martin Lelchook who was killed in Israel during the 2006 conflict with the Iranian backed militant group.
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