ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Wassim el Abd Fadel is behind bars inside Tacumbú prison in Asunción, Paraguay, as he awaits trial on human trafficking, money laundering and narco-trafficking charges.
But Paraguayan authorities suspect the Lebanese with Paraguayan citizenship’s involvement in crime is much greater, which is why he’s being investigated for financing the terrorist organization Hezbollah.
Fadel, 31, was arrested on Dec. 21 in Ciudad del Este, which is on the border shared by Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, about 326 kilometers (203 miles) east of the nation’s capital of Asunción.
He was taken into custody days after Paraguayan Nélida Raquel Cardozo Taboada, 21, was arrested in France after authorities found 1.1 kilograms (2.4 pounds) of cocaine in her stomach. She claimed she was being used as a drug mule, as Fadel and his wife, Paraguayan Nancy Noemí Duarte de Fadel, promised her work as a maid in Warsaw, Poland, if she transported the cocaine.
Cardozo Taboada’s arrest led Interpol investigators in France and Paraguay to scrutinize Fadel’s finances.
He’s facing narco-trafficking charges by Interpol for his alleged role in Cardozo Taboada’s case, which led Paraguayan authorities to arrest him and Nancy. Nancy, 31, is being detained at the Mujeres del Buen Pastor women’s prison in Asunción, as she awaits trial on human-trafficking charges.
Interpol’s investigation into Fadel’s ties to crime went deeper. Fadel allegedly transferred the money he made from narco-trafficking and the pirating of CDs and DVDs in Ciudad del Este and Brazil into accounts owned by those connected to Hezbollah at banks in Turkey and Syria.
Fadel allegedly deposited US$50,000 to US$200,000 into these accounts per transaction, which were used to fund training to terrorists who would carry out attacks throughout the world, according to Paraguayan police.
“Currently, we have a request for more detailed information from Interpol to determine what steps to take next,” said Teresa Martínez, a prosecutor who is investigating the case. “[Fadel and his wife are] being charged with human trafficking, but it seems that there are other elements that will require assistance from other specialized units to determine their degree of guilt in these other crimes.”
Fadel is suspected of running the operation after the organization he allegedly worked with was dismantled by Paraguayan authorities. Lebanese national Moussa Alí Hamdan was extradited to the United States on Feb. 11, 2011 to face charges of terrorist financing. About a year earlier, two of his alleged cohorts Amer Zoher El Hossni and Nemir Alí Zhayter were extradited to the United States, where they were wanted on cocaine-trafficking charges.
Ali Hamdan was apprehended on June 16, 2010 in Ciudad del Este. Hamdan, a dual U.S.-Lebanese national, is accused of allegedly buying goods he suspected were stolen from a U.S. official.
Hamdan is suspected of buying more than 1,700 cell phones, 400 Sony PlayStation2 systems and three used cars after the U.S. official told him the funds would be used to finance Hezbollah. Hamdan could be sentenced to 25 years in prison if he’s found guilty on all of the 31 charges filed against him.
Fadel owns a mansion in his hometown of Touline, south of the Lebanese capital city of Beirut. The residence is located just meters away from the residence where Hezbollah strongman Ghaleb Awali lived before he was killed in 2004 by a Sunni group known as the Soldiers of Damascus.