A report by The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) said that the anonymous group SpiderZ that hacked Qard al-Hasan Association (AQAH) – Hezbollah’s financial arm – exposed how Hezbollah transfers money and the role Lebanon’s banking system plays in the process.
It said that the US Treasury Department’s designations of Lebanese banks and of multiple Hezbollah entities, financiers, and money launderers point to the complicity of Lebanese banks in Hezbollah’s financial operations, however, the AQAH hack provided more evidence of this complicity.
“Through AQAH, Lebanon’s banks grant Hezbollah access to the international banking system, 13 years after Treasury designated AQAH,” the FDD report said.
“The hacked files include account information for nearly 400,000 individuals and entities. In addition to average Lebanese citizens, the documents exposed expatriates, Hezbollah cadres and institutions, so-called “major depositors,” Iranian entities, and, importantly, the Lebanese banks that serviced AQAH.”
Despite its designation by Washington in 2007, AQAH has maintained its relationship with Lebanese banks.
The leaked documents identify banks that provided accounts and services to the Association and maintained correspondent accounts with AQAH, including seven Hezbollah officials who were sanctioned by the US.
A research fellow at FDD Tony Badran told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US sanctions against the seven Lebanese nationals it said were connected to the group and its financial firm falls in line with the 2019 US Treasury Department’s sanctions against Jammal Trust Bank SAL for allegedly facilitating banking activities for the militant group.
On Tuesday, the US Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on seven Lebanese linked to Hezbollah and its financial arm.
The Treasury said six of the seven sanctioned were the group’s “shadow bankers,” who used the cover of personal accounts at certain Lebanese banks to evade sanctions against Hezbollah’s financial arm.
“Despite exposing the ties between AQAH and a number of Lebanese banks, the US Treasury did not name these banks or explain how they were part of the scheme” said Badran.
Hezbollah has used exchange houses as way stations for transferring proceeds from its various enterprises into the Lebanese banking sector, where the funds can be laundered through the international financial system.
According to the report, the exchange houses used a variant of the hawala system, which is an alternative or parallel remittance channel enabling individuals or companies to transfer money, without moving it, through a system that records credit and debit transactions.
“Unfortunately, the US Treasury Department is still trying to differentiate between banks and Hezbollah and claims that the banks were victims. However, the problem is that Hezbollah continues to transfer money under the pretext that pressure on the Lebanese banking system could lead to its collapse,” Badran explained, noting that “in reality, the system has already collapsed.”
A major Iranian account holder and depositor at AQAH is Issa Tabatabaei, who represents Khamenei in Lebanon. He helped found many of the group’s institutions, including the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, the Martyrs Foundation, and its al-Rasoul al-Aazam hospital.
The hacked AQAH documents can help the US determine which banks that have provided services to Hezbollah are beyond salvaging and whether there is a basis for subsequent terror-finance criminal investigations.
“The relationships between Lebanon’s banks and Hezbollah should be a key factor to consider when Lebanon’s economic overhaul begins.”