Daily Archives: December 14, 2011

Bank ledgers reveal Hezbollah drug racket

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Jo Becker, Beirut
December 15, 2011

LAST February, the Obama administration accused one of Lebanon‘s famously secretive banks of laundering money for an international cocaine ring with ties to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Now, the bank’s ledgers have been opened to reveal the clandestine ways the ”Party of God” finances its operations.

Intelligence from several countries points to the direct involvement of high-level Hezbollah officials in the South American cocaine trade. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Virginia announced the indictment of the man at the centre of a case involving the Lebanese Canadian Bank, charging that he had trafficked drugs and laundered money for Colombian cartels and the Mexican gang Los Zetas.

US intelligence analysts believe that for years Hezbollah received as much as $US 200 million ($A198 million) annually from its main patron, Iran, along with additional aid from Syria. But that support has diminished as Iran’s economy buckles and Syria’s government battles rising unrest.

”The ability of terror groups like Hezbollah to tap into the worldwide criminal funding streams is the new post-9/11 challenge,” said Derek Maltz, a Drug Enforcement Administration official.

US Treasury officials said senior bank managers had helped a handful of account holders in a scheme to wash drug money by mixing it with the proceeds of used cars bought in the US and sold in Africa.

In all, hundreds of millions of dollars a year sloshed through the accounts, held mainly by Shiite Muslim businessmen in the drug-smuggling nations of West Africa.

Many of these were known Hezbollah supporters, trading in everything from rough-cut diamonds to cosmetics and frozen chicken.

Founded three decades ago as a guerilla force aimed at the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has never before had such a prominent place in the country’s official politics. Yet much of its power derives from its status as a state within the Lebanese state. In South America and in Europe, prosecutors began noticing Lebanese Shiite middlemen working for drug cartels. But the strongest evidence of an expanding Hezbollah role in the drug trade comes from the two investigations that ultimately led to the Lebanese Canadian Bank.

The trail began with a man known as ”Taliban”, overheard on Colombian wiretaps of a Medellin cartel.

In reality he was a Lebanese transplant, Chekri Mahmoud Harb, and in June 2007, he met in Bogota an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and sketched out his route.

The undercover agent casually remarked that he must have Hezbollah connections. Mr Harb smiled and nodded, the agent reported. Agents had known that there was a major money launderer whose phone sat in Lebanon.

Now they had a name: Ayman Joumaa, owner of the Caesars Park Hotel, Beirut.

Eventually, an American team sent to look into Joumaa’s activities uncovered the used car operation.

The administration decided to invoke a rarely used provision of the Patriot Act. Since the bank had been found to be of ”primary money-laundering concern”, the Treasury Department could turn it into an international pariah by forbidding US financial institutions to deal with it. President Barack Obama was briefed, and in February, Treasury officials acted.

The indictment announced on Tuesday charges Joumaa with co-ordinating shipments of Colombian cocaine to Los Zetas in Mexico for sale in the US, and laundering the proceeds. The US has no extradition treaty with Lebanon, and Joumaa’s whereabouts are unknown.

Treasury’s Daniel Glaser said Lebanon’s Central Bank had shown its willingness to co-operate with the US in shutting down the Lebanese Canadian Bank and selling it to a ”responsible owner”.

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US: Conoco Offers Highest Bid In Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale

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By gCaptain Staff On December 14, 2011

Lease Sale Map – Bid Distribution for Sale 218 via BOEM

HOUSTON (Dow Jones)–ConocoPhillips’s (COP) $103.2 million offer for the Keathley Canyon Block 95 was the highest bid in the first U.S. Gulf of Mexico lease sale since last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

ConocoPhillips’s bid was higher than offers made for the same block by six other companies, including BP PLC (BP), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA), and a subsidiary of A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S (MAERSK-B.KO), according to results released Wednesday by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in New Orleans.

The agency is set to report the winning bids for the sale, known as Sale 218, which offered 191 tracts located in the western Gulf, later Wednesday.

Block 95 is located in the Gulf’s deepwater and it has yielded in the past massive discoveries such as Chevron Corp.’s (CVX) Buckskin and BP’s Kaskida.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) were also among active bidders for other blocks offered in the sale, according to the agency.

The results are expected to show the level of interest oil companies have in the Gulf. The federal government strengthened regulations in the area after BP’s Macondo well blew out as drilling was completed in April 2010, killing 11 workers and unleashing the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

–By Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires

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BOEM outlines GoM lease sale results

Published: Dec 14, 2011

Offshore staff

NEW ORLEANS – The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Gulf Coast Region, has released the Sale Day Statistics for OCS sale 218 involving the western Gulf of Mexico. This is the first such sale since the Macondo incident.

Twenty companies placed 241 bids on 191 of the total of 3,913 blocks offered. The sum of the high bids was $337,688,341.

The Top 10 single highest bids are as follows:

1. ConocoPhillips Co., Keathley Canyon 95, $103,200,000

2. Maersk Oil Gulf of Mexico Two LLC, Garden Banks 537, $8,640,816

3. Maersk Oil Gulf of Mexico Two LLC, Garden Banks 582, $8,640,816

4. Anadarko US Offshore Corp., East Breaks 637, $8,294,880

5. Maersk Oil Gulf of Mexico Two LLC, Garden Banks 530, $7,777,816

6. Exxon Mobil Corp., East Breaks 772, $7,750,535

7. BP Exploration & Production Inc., Keathley Canyon 441, $7,122,619

8. BP Exploration & Production Inc., Keathley Canyon 397, $5,692,619

9. BP Exploration & Production Inc., Keathley Canyon 7, $4,912,619

10.Exxon Mobil Corp., Alaminos Canyon 612, $4,750,535.

The Top 10 companies based on total number of high bids are as follows:

1. ConocoPhillips Co., 75 bids, $157,816,740

2. Exxon Mobil Corp. 50 bids, $63,293,750

3. Maersk Oil Gulf of Mexico Two LLC, 12 bids, $36,010,792

4. BP Exploration & Production Inc., 11 bids, $27,458,809

5. Plains Exploration & Production Co., 10 bids, $12,870,000

6. Anadarko US Offshore Corp., 7 bids, $19,317,210

7. Ecopetrol America Inc., 7 bids, $6,000,000

8. Shell Offshore Inc. 3 bids, $4,951,858

9. Apache Corp., 3 bids, $1,693,927

10. Castex Offshore Inc., 2 bids, $4,200,000.

US Alleges Zetas-Hezbollah Funding Link

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Written by  Hannah Stone

U.S. authorities have accused a Lebanese man of selling Colombian cocaine to the Zetas and laundering money on their behalf, while using the profits to finance Hezbollah, a militant group based in Beirut.

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According to the latest indictment, Ayman Joumaa, aka “Junior,” (pictured) and his partners sold 85 tons of cocaine to the Zetas between 2005-2007, which was later trafficked into the U.S., and laundered some $850 million in their profits for the group, some of it through the Lebanese Canadian Bank. The latest charges do not mention Hezbollah, though Joumaa was accused earlier this year by the Treasury of being part of a drug trafficking and money laundering ring which financed the group, reports ProPublica.

According to the indictment, Joumaa’s group would charge the Zetas 8 to 14 percent for its money laundering services.

The story speaks to some of the U.S.’s worst fears about its enemies in the Middle East gaining ground in Latin America. ABC points out that

U.S. officials have long known about [Hezbollah] operating in South America’s tri-border area in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina where the group runs drugs and large scale counterfeiting networks, according to U.S. officials. In recent years there has been more recent concern about the group establishing a footprint in Central America.

Slate looks at the other side of the deal, pointing out that Lebanon would be a good place for the Zetas to launder money, as it has highly secretive banking regulations, while there is a large Lebanese community in Mexico, with links to the Lebanese banking sector.

The case is reminiscent of a supposed plot revealed by U.S. authorities in October, which involved a representative of the Iranian intelligence service making contact with people he thought were members of the Zetas, in order to order a hit against Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington. As with that case, which did not quite add up, it is worth treating with caution attempts to link Mexican trafficking groups to Muslim militants, which have often appeared to be more based on Washington’s fears than on evidence.

However, U.S. officials were cautious about asserting direct links between the two groups in the latest case, pointing out that “It’s not like there’s a sit-down between the leaders of Hezbollah and the Zetas,” as ProPublica reports.

A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.

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More US drones patrolling above border with Mexico

Congress pins hopes of securing US border on unmanned drones

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The MQ-9 Predator B, an unmanned surveillance aircraft system, is unveiled by US Customs and Border Protection at Libby Army Airfield on Oct. 30, 2006 in Sierra Vista, Ariz. (Gary Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

Teri SchultzDecember 6, 2011 06:21

LUNA COUNTY, New Mexico — Raymond Cobos, the sheriff in these parts, said the horrors of Mexico’s drug war aren’t limited to the big cities of Juarez or Tijuana, and are creeping closer and closer to the United States everyday.

Just across the border sits Puerto Palomas, a Mexican town where Americans used to go — in relative safety — to shop, eat out and seek low-cost medical procedures.

But last years things began to change. And then, Cobos said, shocking events began happening on his doorstep.

“We saw the violence first-hand: the bodies, the tortures, the decapitations. People going to church found three heads displayed there in the plaza,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any single town anywhere of any prominence in Mexico that hasn’t had at one time a series of horrible criminal events in which people have been murdered, tortured, mutilated.”

Now fear is growing that such violence will spill over onto American soil and some officials are hoping that an increased reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will help stem the tide.

More from GlobalPost: Complete coverage of the Drone Wars

Although the number of Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States is declining, the potential for drug-related violence — especially as an ongoing war among Mexican drug cartels continues to spiral — has reestablished border security as a hot-button issue, and made the use of drones along the border ever more popular.

The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, commonly known as the Drone Caucus, is a congressional group that works to promote the use of drones both domestically and abroad. It has doubled its membership since January while the number of drones used on the border to track illegal immigrants and drug activity has also steadily increased.

A bipartisan group formed in 2009, the Drone Caucus argues that UAVs are a peerless asset whose use should be amplified not only in weaponized strikes against extremists abroad, but also for the surveillance and tracking of those trying to breach US borders.

Drones now troll the southern border from California to Louisiana, and the northern border from Washington to Minnesota. With a potential flight time of more than 20 hours, the drones make it feasible to cover vast expanses of difficult terrain, while “pilots” split the shifts on the ground.

The first Predator drone was assigned to the southwest border in 2005. Four more soon followed, with the fifth delivered in October to the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, in the district of Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is a co-chair of the Drone Caucus. A sixth will soon arrive in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and two more monitor the northern border out of North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base.

More from GlobalPost: Are the drone wars legal?

Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, a retired Air Force pilot who has been working with unmanned technology since the 1990s, said that in his current post as assistant commissioner for the US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine, the drones could prove an invaluable tool.

“If you look at how important the UAVs have been in defense missions overseas,” Kostelnik said from Washington, DC, “it’s not really rocket science to make adjustments for how important those things could be in the homeland for precisely the same reasons.”

Other than the fact that border patrol aircraft do not carry weapons — and despite the presidential campaign rhetoric, Kostelnik said they don’t intend to weaponize them — the units are identical to those used in Pakistan and elsewhere in terms of intelligence collection and real-time interdiction support for agents on the ground.

Tucson Border Patrol Division Chief John Fitzpatrick said it was difficult to put into numbers just how valuable the drones could be for border security.

“Whenever the aircraft shows up, the agents on the ground are more successful and more efficient in what they do,” he said. “It gives us a lot of capabilities we didn’t have before.”

He acknowledged that there was some discomfort with the technology from people living in the area, who worried that the government would be looking into their backyards.

More from GlobalPost: The rationale behind the Drone Wars

“We reassure them there’s accountability in everything we do,” Fitzpatrick said.

For now, supply appears to be outweighing the need and on Capitol Hill, the Drone Caucus appears to be in overdrive. The last three UAVs purchased for border patrol — at a price tag of $32 million from the 2010 budget — were not even requested by Customs and Border Protection, according to an official from the Department of Homeland Security who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Congress sent no extra money for missions or maintenance, despite reports that planes already in service remain grounded at times due to a shortage of pilots, spare parts and other logistical restraints.

Customs and Border Protection reported that drones have been responsible for the apprehension of 7,500 illegal immigrants since they began operating six years ago — a tiny fraction of the total number of arrests that have been made over the same period. Using other means, in six years, the agency has apprehended almost 5 million people.

T.J. Bonner, head of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing border patrol agents, said the low numbers prove that money is better spent on manned aircraft and boots on the ground.

More from GlobalPost: The people behind the drones

“People play with the facts around this stuff,” Kostelnik said with frustration, acknowledging that high-profile, targeted killings overseas have politicized even unweaponized missions.

When asked what help he needed most back in Luna County, Sheriff Cobos said he would prioritize “boots on the ground,” but wouldn’t object to a little unmanned help.

Unlike Texas and Arizona, New Mexico doesn’t have a facility to receive data from drones, so it has had to rely primarily on a low-tech approach — manually tracking known routes with a night-vision scope, searching abandoned houses and sidling along the border, watching for Mexicans climbing and jumping off the 12-foot high border fence.

The other states are “banging their drums while we’re using a popsicle stick,” Cobos said about New Mexico.

“Sooner or later the cartels are going to say, ‘Hey, why aren’t we utilizing this space? Why are we trying to shove it through Arizona and Texas?’” he said. “The possibility [there’s] going to be a catastrophic civil war in Mexico is pretty high, and I have to face the probability that at some point I have to deal with it.”

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XL Pipeline Delay Costs the United States $70,000,000 Daily

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The XL Pipeline will be essential to securing the future of oil security in the United States. According to the US State Department, the pipeline will deliver 700,000 barrels of oil daily to consumers. This will generate enormous revenue in local communities and create 20,000 American jobs. With the current price of WTI crude hovering at the $100 mark, the pipeline will deliver $70,000,000 worth of oil every single day, helping the United States grow and prosper.

However, the Obama administration has delayed its decision on the pipeline until after the election. According to Bloomberg, this means that the pipeline will not be completed until at least 2015. Had the pipeline been given the green light this November, thousands of valuable construction jobs would have been immediately created and in 2013 the pipeline would have come on stream. But instead this administration prefers to export jobs and US dollars overseas, squandering $70,000,000 per day.

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NZOG Acquires Stake in Cosmos Concession Offshore Tunisia

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NZOG (New Zealand Oil & Gas Ltd)  has executed an agreement to take a 40% stake in a Tunisian concession that contains an oil field which could be brought into production as early as 2014.  The Cosmos Concession in the Gulf of Hammamet, offshore Tunisia, contains the Cosmos South oil discovery. The concession was held by a joint venture comprising Storm Ventures International (80% and Operator) and Tunisia’s state-owned oil company L’Enterprise Tunisienne d’Activites Petrolieres (ETAP) (20%).

Storm is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toronto exchange-listed Chinook Energy Inc, and will reduce its share of the concession to 40% under the farm-in agreement.

A formal signing of the agreement by NZOG and Storm has been completed in Tunis.

Under the terms of the farm-in agreement, NZOG is paying a US$3m contribution to past costs, securing the right to participate and earn an interest in the development of the Cosmos concession.

A development plan is in preparation. If the development is approved through a Final Investment Decision (FID), NZOG will pay the first US$19m of Storm’s share of the development costs.

Independently evaluated proved and probable oil reserves of 6.3 million barrels have been attributed to the Cosmos South block, with additional potential from adjacent lobes. Further work on assessing the recoverable oil resource will take place ahead of FID.

The development plan is currently based on three wells, a small platform and a floating production and storage offtake vessel (“FPSO”), with initial production rates of 15,000-20,000 barrels of oil per day.

The partners intend to decide on FID in mid-2012. If the project proceeds, first oil production is anticipated in mid-2014.

NZOG CEO Andrew Knight says Cosmos is a good fit for NZOG.

“NZOG’s initial cost exposure is relatively small. If the numbers stack up we will commit to the Final Investment Decision and will be able to comfortably fund the capital commitment from our balance sheet. This is a near term, low risk development opportunity, with both production upside and exploration potential.  This is a promising step forward in the expansion of our overseas interests.”

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Now Russia’s Joint Venture With BP Is Spending $10 Billion To Find Oil In The Arctic

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MOSCOW (AP)TNK-BP, a Russian joint venture of British oil giant BP, says it will invest up to $10 billion in developing Arctic oilfields.

The company, half-owned by BP and Russian billionaires, said in a statement Wednesday that up to $10 billion will be spent on building infrastructure at the fields and a pipeline that will link them with the export pipeline.

Russian oil companies have been drawing up plans to move to the oil and gas-rich Arctic as mature fields in Western Siberia are getting depleted.

TNK-BP said an agreement with Russia’s pipeline monopolist Transneft will allow it to connect its Arctic oil fields to the export pipeline in Russia’s Far East mainly aimed at Chinese customers.

Businessinsider.com

Holiday Greeting’s From Iran: Grim, Cynical and Desperate

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Austin Bay

Iran‘s tyrannical regime has sent the world what passes for a holiday greeting in contemporary Tehran — a grim and cynical threat.

This week, a member of Iran’s National Security Committee intimated that Iran would soon demonstrate that it could close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic. Paryiz Saryari, a member of Iran’s sham parliament, added this bit of rhetorical fire: “If the world wants to make the region (i.e., Iran) insecure, we will make the world insecure.”

The Strait of Hormuz connects the oil-rich Persian Gulf region to the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Closing the Strait to shipping effectively imposes a naval blockade on the Arab states along the Gulf’s littoral. That’s grim, for it amounts to waging war on several US allies, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

It gets grimmer. On any given day, some 30 percent of the globe’s seaborne oil supply sails through the geographic choke-point; thus closing the Strait threatens international energy security.

Missiles and mines bolster Saryari’s bombast. Iran possesses sufficient military forces to seal the channel. Anti-ship mines, high-speed anti-ship missiles and torpedoes pose the biggest problems. Iran also has a few submarines. Strikes by suicide aircraft and swarm attacks by suicide speedboats are possible.

Yes, this is a grim scenario, and in the looming future grimmer still, once Iran’s Khomeinist despots possess nuclear weapons — which they don’t, not yet … we hope.

Cynics argue that the ayatollahs’ cynicism, which is as amply evident as is their corruption, will keep Hormuz open. Immediately following Saryari’s threat, world oil prices spiked three to four dollars. Iranian government oil traders, given a heads-up that the verbal threat was coming, could have made millions, with the cash lining a Revolutionary Guard officer’s pocket, or an ayatollah’s robe, or going into an account to illicitly purchase nuclear weapon detonators.

An uncertain logic undergirds this cynical read. The ayatollahs know that actually closing the strait amounts to a self-blockade. Iran’s major oil-exporting seaports lie on the Persian Gulf (e.g., Kharg Island). The regime buys what domestic peace it enjoys with oil money. Choke the strait, and the ayatollahs strangle themselves. So they won’t do it, if economic logic overrides theological millenarianism.

Economic logic, however, does not guide the ayatollahs’ nuclear quest. If they ditched their nukes, sanctions would end and the threat of U.S. or Israeli attack would drastically diminish. Yet the centrifuges continue to spin; so do threats to annihilate Israel. Last month, Iran threatened to attack missile defense radar sites in Turkey.

The grim consequences of closing Hormuz are why Western and Persian Gulf Arab militaries are prepared to defend the strait, break any Iranian blockade and clear the strait of mines.

The grim consequences of Iran’s regime acquiring nuclear weapons are why U.S. spy drones scrutinize Iranian nuclear facilities and why mysterious bomb blasts (Mossad at work?) plague Iranian labs. It appears the Obama administration has finally understood that negotiations and sanctions won’t halt the quest and that the Bush administration was right — the ayatollahs are hellbent on nukes. So the Obama Administration has decided to wage a covert war on Iranian nuclear capabilities.

That alone, however, does not explain the desperate quality of Iran’s recent belligerency. Domestically, the regime survives by threatening its people with its street thugs and secret police. Syria’s dictatorship (an Iranian ally) has failed to crush its rebels with these brutal tools.

That seeds desperation in Tehran, but Tunisia may be a bigger source of concern.

As Hussein Ibish noted at NOWLebanon.com, recent “bickering” among Tunisian parliamentarians was delightful because “there was no monarch, no dictatorship, no junta or oppressive military, no killings, no militias, no riots and no hint of civil conflict, foreign interference or invasion” present. Another democracy is emerging in a culturally Islamic society. It’s fragile, but for Iran’s tyrants, it is to be feared

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