March 16, 2017 | Policy Brief

Morocco Arrests Hezbollah Financier

March 16, 2017 | Policy Brief

Morocco Arrests Hezbollah Financier

 Lebanese media reported Tuesday that the tycoon and terror financier Qassem Tajeddin has been apprehended in Morocco before boarding a flight to Beirut. The U.S. Treasury Department designated Tajeddin in 2009 for being “an important financial contributor” to Hezbollah and for operating a number of front companies with his brothers for the group.

Details of the arrest remain scarce. Citing anonymous sources “close to the family,” Lebanese outlets said Moroccan authorities nabbed Tajeddin at the Casablanca airport and took him to an unknown location. In a statement, the Tajeddin family acknowledged that he was in Moroccan custody.

The family also sought to dispel “rumors” about the incident – likely a reference to reports that the arrest came at the behest of U.S. intelligence services, who then took Tajeddin into custody. Other outlets even speculated about a possible Israeli angle. As of yet, no one has accused Saudi Arabia of collusion, even as ties between Rabat and Riyadh are strong.

Tajeddin, a dual national of Sierra Leone, runs a large business empire with his brothers across West Africa and has close dealings with Hezbollah. His two younger brothers, Ali and Hussain, are both under U.S. sanctions, but a third, Ahmad, is not. That brother, however, is now the majority shareholder of Congo Futur, a sawmilling concern, which Treasury sanctioned in 2010. Despite the designation, a recent report by the anti-corruption group Global Witness revealed that Congo Futur has continued to export timber to the U.S. A Wall Street Journal report in November also revealed that U.S. food producers were still working with poultry companies controlled by the Tajeddins.

Meanwhile, Qassem Tajeddin’s business remains active in Lebanon. His substantial commercial and residential projects are not only lucrative but aid in Hezbollah’s military planning as well. Tajeddin’s properties connect sensitive territory across Lebanon, especially in the Chouf district south of Beirut and the adjacent Western Bekaa district, and also along the coastal highway linking Beirut to south Lebanon.

Some Lebanese fear that these projects allow Hezbollah to introduce new demographic realities in non-Shiite areas, while also securing the organization’s access there for military purposes. They also fear that some of the larger projects may even have underground facilities that Hezbollah could use.

While Hezbollah’s media organs have kept mum about the matter, on Wednesday the mayor of Tajeddin’s hometown threatened demonstrations outside the Moroccan and U.S. embassies if he is not released within 48 hours. Tensions between the Iran-led “Shiite axis” and Morocco will likely increase if he remains in Moroccan custody.

Tajeddin’s arrest was a welcome step in the global fight against Hezbollah finance, but it is also one that Iran and Hezbollah will undoubtedly see as a provocation – all the more so if Morocco extradites him to the United States.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @AcrossTheBay


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