Aligning criminal activity with terrorist funding is not a new concept to many anti-money laundering specialists. New research from Australia, however, has revealed the extent to which Hezbollah backed organised crime groups in South America, mainly around the Tri-Border Area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, are exploiting Australian identity cards to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking.
Taskforce Eligo, a money laundering probe run by the Australian Crime Commission has uncovered 40 separate money laundering schemes in Australia which are cleaning the proceeds of drug sales, filtering the money to exchange houses in the Middle East, which are then sending the money back to the drug traffickers in South America. It is unclear from the article in The Age whether the exchange houses are traditional bureaux de change or hawaladars. Hezbollah is well known for using businesses of all kinds, including bureaux de change in South America, to launder cash but the Middle Eastern part of the network could be using the traditional South Asian hawala system of remitting money around the world to send cash back to drug producers without touching the formal, or regulated, banking system.
Sources in the US who are tuned in to underground activity in North and South America, have reported recently that Hezbollah is taking up a new strong hold in Latin America, Venezuela. Although it has been out of the news since Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, the country is in some economic turmoil and the country sadly provides little safety for its citizens; both factors provide good ground for organised crime to flourish.
Project Eligo, in operation since 2013, has so far seized AUD$26 million in dirty cash, restrained AUD$30 million of houses and other assets funded by drug money and intercepted drug shipments totalling more than AUD$530 million dollars.
Read the full report here.