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Miami Businessmen Arrested on Hezbollah-Related Smuggling Charges

Posted: February 22, 2010

Three Miami-based businessmen have been indicted for smuggling electronics to a Hezbollah-operated business in Paraguay.


The Miami-based businessmen – Khaled T. Safadi, Ulises Talavera and Emilio Gonzalez-Neira – were arrested in Florida on February 18, 2010, for selling electronics to a Paraguay-based shopping and office complex designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a funding source for Hezbollah.  An indictment unsealed the day after the men’s arrests charged the men and their Miami-based companies with conspiring to defraud the U.S., smuggling electronic goods from the U.S. to Paraguay, and violating a U.S. ban on transactions involving entities designated by the Treasury Department as terrorist fundraising networks. 


The indictment alleges that Safadi, 56, distributed Sony electronics, including Playstation 2 consoles and digital cameras, to freight-forwarders Talavera, 46, and Gonzalez-Neira, 43.  They, in turn, shipped the products to a fourth suspect who owns an electronics business in the Galería Page shopping center in Paraguay.  Samer Mehdi, 37, the fourth suspect, a Brazilian and Paraguayan national, remains at large. 


According to the indictment, the defendants attempted to conceal the destination of their prohibited shipments by creating fake invoices containing false addresses and fictitious consignees on required export paperwork.  Mehdi also allegedly routed transferred payments to the U.S.-based distributors through various facilities to mask their origin.


According to the Treasury Department, Paraguay’s Galería Page shopping center, which is managed and owned by Hezbollah, serves as the terrorist organization’s central headquarters in the lawless and drug-ridden tri-border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.  The area is used as a key locale for raising and laundering money, drug trafficking, weapons and people smuggling and document and currency fraud.  Hezbollah’s extensive operational presence in the region helps fund its terrorist activities both in Lebanon and abroad. 


Since the Treasury Department named Galería Page a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in December 2006, transactions with the shopping center or any entity within it has been prohibited.  The Miami-based defendants, however, began shipments to Mehdi’s business in March 2007, according to the indictment. 


In addition to Safadi, Talavera and Gonzalez-Neira, several others have been indicted or convicted in the U.S. on terrorism charges relating to Hezbollah. The following is a sampling of those arrested or convicted in the U.S. for Hezbollah-related activities:


  • Four men were indicted in Philadelphia in November 2009 for attempting to provide Hezbollah with a cache of weapons and funds.  The indictment filed against Moussa Ali Hamdan, Hassan Hodroj, Dib Hani Harb and Hasan Antar Karaki followed a separate investigation in which at least 12 men attempted to transfer stolen goods and send anti-aircraft missiles to Lebanon.  Dani Nemr Tarraf, the apparent ringleader of the group, allegedly told federal authorities that he was conspiring to acquire a large quantity of weapons for Hezbollah.

  • Patrick Nayyar of Queens, New York, was indicted in October 2009 for attempting to provide weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Hezbollah.  Nayyar, an Indian national residing in the U.S. illegally, has pleaded not guilty to all counts. 

  • In June 2009, Javed Iqbal and Saleh Elahwal were sentenced in a Manhattan federal court to nearly six years in prison and 17 months in prison, respectively, for distributing broadcasts of Al Manar, Hezbollah's TV station, and providing material support to Hezbollah.

  • Fawzi Mustapha Assi, an automobile engineer from Dearborn, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in December 2008 for providing night vision equipment and GPS technology to Hezbollah.

  • A group of approximately 20 men ran a criminal enterprise in Dearborn, Michigan, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, cigarette papers and Viagra, as well as stolen infant formula and toilet paper.  Prosecutors contend that the ring diverted some of the funds to Hezbollah.  Naturalized U.S. citizen Karim Hassan Nasser pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in September 2006, as did Theodore Schenk of Miami Beach, Florida and Imad Hamadeh of Dearborn Heights.

  • Yousef Kourani, a Lebanese man living in Dearborn, Michigan, was sentenced in June 2005 to four-and-a-half years in prison for raising money for Hezbollah to purchase technology equipment.

  • In 2005, at least 125 people were arrested in Los Angeles for selling counterfeit goods, including designer handbags, DVDs and tobacco, in order to raise money for Hezbollah, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.  A total of $16 million in knock-off items was seized, as well as $3.5 million in cash.

  • Dearborn resident Elias Mohamad Akhdar was sentenced in January 2004 to nearly six years in prison for his role in a cigarette-smuggling ring designed to finance Hezbollah.  Another Dearborn resident, Hassan M. Makki, received a sentence of nearly five years in prison in connection with the scheme.

  • In 2002, Dearborn resident Ali Boumelhem was sentenced to 44 months in prison for trying to send weapons and ammunition to Hezbollah.

  • At least three naturalized U.S. citizens – Said Mohamad Harb, Bassam Youssef Hamood and Hussein Chahrour – and U.S. citizen Angela Georgia Tsioumas are among a group of nine individuals who bought cigarettes in North Carolina, shipped them to Michigan and sold them at a price lower than the tax-inflated Michigan price.  From 1995 to 2000, the scheme generated over $7 million used to procure dual-use technologies for Hezbollah.  Items were reportedly purchased for Hezbollah in both the U.S. and Canada, including goggles, global positioning systems, stun guns, naval equipment, nitrogen cutters and laser range finders.
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