On August 24, the Paraguayan and U.S. governments carried out a coordinated action against the money laundering network of Kassem Mohamad Hijazi, a Brazilian citizen of Lebanese descent involved in funding Hezbollah terrorism.
In response to a U.S. extradition request, teams of the Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD, in Spanish) captured Hijazi and raided his offices in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, in the Tri-border area near Argentina and Brazil. A few hours after Hijazi’s arrest, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed anti-corruption sanctions against Hijazi, as well as his first cousin Khalil Ahmad Hijazi and one of his associates, Paraguayan businessperson Liz Paola Doldán González, the Treasury said in a statement. The Treasury also designated five organizations that were “connected with their corruption schemes.”
According to the Treasury, Hijazi’s laundering network has been operating on a global scale since 2017, “with the capability to launder hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, based in Washington D.C., reported that a U.S. diplomatic cable in 2005 called Kassem Hijazi “a principle Hizbollah [sic] fundraiser and activist,” who used “a portion of [his] laundered funds to support Lebanese Hizbollah activities.”
SENAD said in a statement that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) included Hijazi’s organization on its list of the most prolific international narcotrafficking and money laundering organizations. “Kassem Mohamad Hijazi is believed to be skillfully permeating the weaknesses of the national and international financial system to place and layer funds from illicit activities, including narcotrafficking, generating fraudulent commercial transactions,” SENAD added.
According to the Treasury, Hijazi used import and export companies, such as España Informatica S.A. — whose president is Khalil Ahmad Hijazi — to import U.S. products through Paraguayan ports of entry and sell them in the country. Through exchange brokers and banks in Ciudad del Este, he then transferred the profits to the United States, China, and Hong Kong, among other places. Hijazi’s network of front companies and his business relationships enabled him to move his illicit profits around the world, as his network likely extends to the United States, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and China. Hijazi allegedly operated with more than 110 companies, the Paraguayan newspaper El Independiente reported.
“Anti-drug sources said that Hijazi presumably does not operate for an exclusive organization or for groups of a single criminal area, but rather manages money laundering for anyone that requires his resources; U.S. intelligence has even linked him to the finances of the Shiite group Hezbollah,” El Independiente reported.
According to SENAD, Paraguayan courts had already investigated Hijazi and his brother Chadi Mohamad Hijazi, in 2004 for tax evasion, money laundering, and illegal remittances.