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 Treasury Sanctions Maritime Network Tied To Joumaa Criminal Organization

​Action Exposes Continued Activities of Lebanese-Colombian drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated four Lebanese and two German nationals and 11 companies as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act).  These individuals provide support for narcotics trafficking and money laundering activities conducted by Lebanese-Colombian drug trafficker and money launderer Ayman Saied Joumaa, key Joumaa associate Hassan Ayash, and the Joumaa criminal organization, which has ties to Hizballah.  As a result of today’s action, any assets these designated entities and individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. 

“Merhi Ali Abou Merhi operates an extensive maritime shipping business that enables the Joumaa network’s illicit money laundering activity and widespread narcotics trafficking,” said John E. Smith, Acting Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “The Joumaa criminal network is a multi-national money laundering ring whose money laundering activities have benefited Hizballah.  Today’s action demonstrates Treasury's commitment to disrupt this network’s trade-based money laundering scheme and obstruct their access to the international financial system.”

OFAC closely coordinated with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Customs and Border Protection to execute today’s action.  

Today’s action targets Lebanese national Merhi Ali Abou Merhi who owns and controls the Abou Merhi Group, a holding company in Lebanon that is also designated today.  Abou Merhi Group has multiple subsidiaries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe including the following 10 designated companies: Abou-Merhi Lines SAL, a shipping line in Lebanon; Abou-Merhi Cruises (AMC) SAL, a travel agency in Lebanon; Le-Mall-Saida, a shopping mall in Lebanon; Queen Stations, a gas station in Lebanon; Orient Queen Homes, a real estate development in Lebanon; maritime shipping subsidiaries in Benin (Abou Merhi Cotonou), Nigeria (Abou Merhi Nigeria), and Germany (Abou Merhi Hamburg); Lebanon Center, a shopping mall in Jordan; and Abou Merhi Charity Institution in Lebanon. 

Merhi has business dealings with previously designated members of the Joumaa drug trafficking and money laundering organization.  The following three Lebanese and two German nationals, respectively, are designated for their management roles in Merhi’s various companies:  Houeda Ahmad Nasreddine, also known as Houeida Abou Merhi; Ahmad El Bezri; Wajdi Youssef Nasr; Hana Merhi Abou Merhi; and Atef Merhi Abou Merhi.

Merhi’s maritime vessels provide used vehicle transportation services to the Joumaa organization.  Merhi, Abou Merhi Group, and Abou Merhi Lines SAL currently own the five vessels identified today:  City of Antwerp, City of Lutece, City of Misurata, City of Tokyo, and Orient Queen II.

On January 26, 2011, OFAC designated the Joumaa drug trafficking and money laundering organization as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker pursuant to the Kingpin Act.  On November 3, 2011, Ayman Joumaa was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for coordinating the shipment of over 85,000 kilograms of cocaine and laundering in excess of $250 million in narcotics proceeds.  Ayman Joumaa remains a fugitive.

On February 10, 2011, the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network identified The Lebanese Canadian Bank SAL as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act for the bank’s role in facilitating the money laundering activities of drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa and his Lebanon-based drug trafficking and money laundering network, as well as having links to Hizballah.

Since June 2000, more than 1,800 individuals and entities have been named pursuant to the Kingpin Act for their role in international narcotics trafficking.  Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1.075 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties.  Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $5 million.  Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million.  Other individuals could face up to 10 years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.

To see a chart relating to today’s action, click here
To see the identifying information relating to today’s actions, click here.
For a complete listing of designations pursuant to the Kingpin Act, click here.

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