NEW YORK: A Lebanese and Belgian citizen considered a key financier of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah was arrested on Friday in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, federal authorities said.
Mohammad Ebrahim Bazzi, 58, who was labelled a “global terrorist” by the United States in 2018 when $10 million was offered for information about his whereabouts, has funnelled millions of dollars to Hezbollah over the years, authorities said.
US Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn said the extradition of Bazzi and Lebanese citizen Talal Chahine, 78, was sought on charges contained in an indictment returned last month in Brooklyn federal court.
“Mohammad Bazzi thought that he could secretly move hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States to Lebanon without detection by law enforcement,” Peace said in a release. “Today’s arrest proves that Bazzi was wrong.”
Charges lodged against Bazzi and Chahine included conspiracy to cause US individuals to conduct unlawful transactions with a global terrorist and money laundering conspiracy. It was unclear who will represent the men when they arrive in the United States.
Daniel J. Kafafian, acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New Jersey, said the defendants “attempted to provide continued financial assistance to Hezbollah, a foreign terrorist organization responsible for death and destruction.”
Romanian law enforcement authorities took Bazzi into custody after he arrived in Bucharest on Friday, according to the release announcing his arrest.
Authorities said Bazzi and Chahine conspired to force or induce an individual in the US to liquidate their interests in some real estate assets in Michigan and covertly transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds out of the US to Bazzi and Chahine in Lebanon.
The men were caught on recorded conversations proposing numerous ways to conceal from US law enforcement officials that Bazzi was the source and destination of the proceeds of the sale and that the men were involved, authorities said.