The Obama administration is intensifying its scrutiny of Lebanon's financial system, concerned that Syria, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah are using Beirut's banks to evade international sanctions and fund their activities.Let's hope it is not too little, too late.
Despite action by Beirut and Washington over the past 14 months to close banks and sanction individuals, the Treasury Department and Drug Enforcement Administration are continuing an aggressive probe into an alleged Hezbollah-linked money-laundering operation, U.S. officials said. They allege the operation involves hundreds of millions of dollars in drug-sales revenues from a Lebanese narco-trafficker that they say have gone to the Lebanese militia and political group.
The Treasury Department also is pressing Lebanese financial regulators to more closely monitor local banks that have operations in Damascus and Tehran, senior U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials believe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is trying to use these financial links as other channels for moving money are blocked by international sanction campaigns against his government, triggered by his yearlong crackdown on political opponents.
"We're concerned about Lebanon being used as a channel by Syrians attempting to evade sanctions," said a senior Treasury official involved in Middle East policy.
A stream of Treasury officials, including U.S. sanctions czar David Cohen, have visited Beirut in recent months to meet Lebanese officials and private bankers.
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