NEW YORK: An in-depth investigative report by The Politico, an American political news organisation, has claimed that in its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed a wide-ranging US law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by Iran’s Lebanese proxy militant group Hezbollah, even as it was funnelling cocaine into the United States.
The campaign by US agencies, called ‘Project Cassandra’, was launched in 2008. The US Drug Enforcement Administration had gathered evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused militant and political group into an international crime syndicate. Some investigators believed the group was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities, according to the report in Politico.
The report zeroed in on Lebanese-Ukrainian arms dealer Ali Fayad, who was suspected of being a Hezbollah operative moving large amounts of weapons to Syria. US agents believed he had links to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq. He was arrested in Prague in the spring of 2014. But for the nearly two years that Fayad was in custody, top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States.
The premise of the Politico article is that US law enforcement’s attempt to prosecute Hezbollah for its criminal enterprises “ran headlong into the White House’s desire for a nuclear deal with Iran”.
The report also alleged that when Project Cassandra agents sought to investigate and prosecute Abdullah Safi Al Deen, Hezbollah’s longtime envoy to Iran suspected of being the linchpin of Hezbollah’s criminal network, the Justice Department refused, according to four former officials with direct knowledge of the cases who spoke to Politico.
Further complicating the picture was the role of the State Department, which often wanted to quash both law-enforcement actions and covert operations due to the political backlash they created. Hezbollah, after all, was a leading political force in Lebanon and a provider of public services locally, with a grass-roots following.
Much of Hezbollah’s money laundering operation was centred around 300 US used-car dealers buying and shipping thousands of used vehicles to West Africa.
Some Obama officials warned that crackdowns against Hezbollah would destabilise Lebanon. Others warned that such actions would alienate Iran at a critical early stage of the serious Iran deal talks.
John ‘Jack’ Kelly, a US Drug Enforcement Administration official overseeing Hezbollah cases, sent an email to undisclosed officials in July 2014, saying: “The USG’s [US government] lack of action on this issue has allowed Hezbollah to become one of the biggest Transnational Organised Crime groups in the world. As we have shown in our investigations the Super Facilitator network uses this criminal activity to provide massive support to the Iranian Hezbollah Threat Network and other terror groups helping fuel conflict in some of the most sensitive regions in the world.”