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Testimony

Examining the Effectiveness of the Kingpin Designation Act in the Western Hemisphere

Testimony for House Foreign Affairs Committee, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee
8th November 2017

Download the full testimony here.

Chairman Cook, allow me first to congratulate you on your recent appointment as the new chairman of this subcommittee. Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Sires, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and its Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance.

In 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicted Ayman Saied Joumaa, a Lebanese-Colombian dual national whose global network of companies operating out of Latin America, West Africa, and Lebanon laundered money for Mexican and Colombian cartels to the tune of $200 million a month of drug proceeds.[1] Joumaa worked with Hezbollah as the kingpin in one of many networks Hezbollah runs globally to sustain its financial needs. When his case came to light, the New York Times quoted a DEA official as saying that Hezbollah operated like “the Gambinos on steroids.”[2]                                               

The United States cannot continue to combat a threat of such magnitude unless it leverages all its tools of statecraft in a combined, sustained, and coordinated fashion. Over the past decade, Hezbollah’s terror finance outside Lebanon has evolved from a relatively small fundraising operation involving trade-based money laundering and charitable donations into a multi-billion dollar global criminal enterprise.

Increasing quantities of Schedule 2 drugs like cocaine invade the U.S. from Latin America, adding fuel to the opioid pandemic that has already cost so many lives.[3] Cocaine consumption is as much a national epidemic as opioids, Mr. Chairman, and Hezbollah helps make it available to U.S. consumers.

This makes Hezbollah, its senior leadership, and its numerous operatives involved in running illicit drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations on a global scale the perfect candidates for Kingpin and Transnational Crime Organization designations, in addition to the terrorism and terror finance designations already in place.

The U.S. government has, over the years, developed remarkably sharp and effective tools to counteract Hezbollah’s terror finance threat, but is not using them as vigorously as it should. The Kingpin Act is one such instrument. But like all other instruments of statecraft, its impact would be much greater if used consistently and in conjunction with other tools. The challenge for Congress, the executive branch, the intelligence community, and law enforcement agencies is to leverage these tools in a manner that will outsmart Hezbollah and disrupt its cash flows enough to inflict irreparable damage to the terror group’s finances.

In pursuit of this goal, America needs to better coordinate the application and enforcement of all instruments available from the formidable toolbox created over the past two decades by legislation and executive orders, including leveraging Executive Orders 13581 and 13773 on combating transnational organized crime, Executive Order 13224 on combating sources of terror finance, the 1999 Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, the 2015 Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA), the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, and soon the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act Amendment of 2017, which is now awaiting reconciliation between its House and Senate versions and which will, once approved, expand on HIFPA.

In doing so, it should focus significantly on the Western Hemisphere, where Hezbollah’s global footprint, especially in Latin America, is most menacing.

Hezbollah’s regional operations are part of a global network of illicit financial and commercial enterprises whose goal is to fund Hezbollah’s activities in the Middle East. Where and when needed, these networks can also be activated to provide logistical support to operatives engaged in planning terror attacks. The United States therefore needs to think and act globally to disrupt Hezbollah’s illicit finance networks. Latin America is a very good place to start doing that.

In the remainder of my testimony, I will discuss evidence demonstrating the magnitude of the threat posed by Hezbollah’s terror finance to the national security of the United States. I will also provide evidence of the high-ranking nature of Hezbollah’s operatives in Latin America – a sure sign of the importance of Hezbollah’s Latin American networks to the organization’s budget. And I will discuss the impact of U.S. policy and actions on disrupting Hezbollah’s terror finance activities. The evidence I am presenting today, hopefully, will highlight both strengths and weaknesses of present U.S. policy and offer ways to improve results.


[1] U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Release, “Treasury Targets Major Lebanese-Based Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Network,” January 26, 2011. (https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pagés/tg1035.aspx); see also: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Press Release, “U.S. Charges Alleged Lebanese Drug Kingpin with Laundering Drug Proceeds for Mexican and Colombian Drug Cartels,” December 13, 2011. (https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/vae/news/2011/12/20111213joumaanr.html)

[2] Jo Becker, “Beirut Bank Seen as a Hub of Hezbollah’s Financing,” The New York Times, December 13, 2011. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/world/middleeast/beirut-bank-seen-as-a-hub-of-hezbollahs-financing.html)

[3] Nick Miroff, “American cocaine use is way up. Colombia’s coca boom may be why,” The Washington Post, March 4, 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/03/04/colombias-coca-boom-is-showing-up-on-u-s-streets/?utm_term=.d370be3ebe9c