The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a Lebanese man and his money-exchange firm on Thursday for laundering drug proceeds across the globe on behalf of narcotics-trafficking organizations and facilitating funds transfers for Hizballah.
Kassem Chams owns Chams Exchange, a money-services business based in Lebanon, which moves money to and from Australia, Colombia, Italy, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, France, Brazil, and the U.S., according to the Treasury.
The Chams Money Laundering Organization moves tens of millions of dollars a month for sanctioned drug traffickers such as Colombian group La Oficina de Envigado and Lebanese money launderer Ayman Said Joumaa, the Treasury said. La Oficina de Envigado was sanctioned in 2014; and Joumaa was sanctioned in 2011. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration determined that the Chams Money Laundering Organization launders a large portion of drug proceeds through Lebanon, which benefits Hizballah, the Treasury said.
Kassem Chams said in a phone interview with The Wall Street Journal that he hadn’t heard of Hizballah or of La Oficina de Envigado. “This is not right at all,” he said, adding that the charges “absolutely are a mistake; this is a small shop.”
The Chams Exchange operates under license and supervision of the Lebanese central bank “despite U.S authorities long suspecting it of being a significant third party money laundering operation,” according to the Treasury. The exchange was established in 1988 with founding capital of 25 million Lebanese pounds, according to corporate records.
The Chams Exchange played a role in the money laundering and drug trafficking network of Mohamed Noureddine, according to court hearings in Paris cited by reports in Le Monde and The National. The network handled tens of millions of dollars in narcotics, luxury contraband and smuggled goods, the National said. Noureddine, who was sanctioned by Treasury in January 2016 for his links to Hizballah, was sentenced in France on Nov. 29, 2018, to seven years in prison.
Analysts from the Counterterrorism/Middle East team contributed to this report.