US sanctions Hezbollah officials working to aid Iran’s agriculture sector

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030118 Mayfield Mnuchin UCLA photo
“The savage and depraved acts of one of Hezbollah’s most prominent financiers cannot be tolerated,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Trump administration’s crackdown on Iranian proxies continued Thursday, when it designated as terrorists two Hezbollah officials who conduct diplomacy for Iran while engaging in drug trafficking and money laundering.

“The savage and depraved acts of one of Hezbollah’s most prominent financiers cannot be tolerated,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday. “This administration will expose and disrupt Hezbollah and Iranian terror networks at every turn, including those with ties to the Central Bank of Iran.”

The Treasury Department targeted Abdallah Safi-Al-Din and Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi for sanctions, as well as four companies controlled by Bazzi. Safi-Al-Din is Hezbollah’s liaison to Iran and Bazzi is a financier who works with a designated international drug trafficking group. The Treasury Department said the pair helped “reestablish a political relationship between the Gambia and Iran,” which hopes to develop relationships in Africa to counter western economic power.

“This action highlights the duplicity and disgraceful conduct of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers,” Mnuchin said.

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The designations lock the financiers — whose assets and companies are spread across Africa, Lebanon, and Europe — out of the U.S.-based financial system. The announcement comes on the heels the Treasury Department sanctioning the head of the Central Bank of Iran for funneling money to Hezbollah.

The moves are part of the administration’s effort to put economic pressure on Iran as the United States withdraws from the 2015 nuclear agreement, with a renewed emphasis on Lebanon-based terror proxies that Iran has deployed across Syria and armed to threaten Israel. Bazzi is the cousin of Hassan Nasrallah, one of Hezbollah’s most senior leaders.

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“Despite Nasrallah’s claims, Hezbollah uses financiers like Bazzi who are tied to drug dealers, and who launder money to fund terrorism,” Mnuchin said.

Bazzi has a close relationship with former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, who was exiled last year after refusing to step down after losing his bid for re-election. Jammeh, who has been designated as a human rights abuser under U.S. law, maintained warm ties with Iran throughout much of his rule until relations cratered in 2010. Bazzi was part of an effort to shore up the relationship last year.

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Iran is laboring through a drought that leaders fear could contribute to political protests; some Iranian environmentalists have been arrested for suggesting that the regime would need to import food do to the water shortage. “In Syria, drought was one of the causes of anti-government protests which broke out in 2011 and led to civil war, making the Iranian drought particularly sensitive,” Reuters noted in March.

Agricultural ties to the Gambia might be designed to help ease that pressure. “Iran faces shortage of water, but it makes great attempts to produce food of 80 million Iranians independently,” Mahmoud Hojjati, Iran’s top agriculture official, said while touting the Gambian relationship in August.

From: Washington Examiner

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