The Scary Used Car Broker Plot

Consider these two data points. First, Jo Becker reports that the money laundering scheme run by the Canadian Lebanese Bank involved brokering used cars purchased in America.

In that inquiry, American Treasury officials said senior bank managers had assisted a handful of account holders in running a scheme to wash drug money by mixing it with the proceeds of used cars bought in the United States and sold in Africa. A cut of the profits, officials said, went to Hezbollah, a link the organization disputes.

[snip]

Eventually an American team dispatched to look into Mr. Joumaa’s activities uncovered the used-car operation. Cars bought in United States were sold in Africa, with cash proceeds flown into Beirut and deposited into three money-exchange houses, one owned by Mr. Joumaa’s family and another down the street from his hotel. The exchanges then deposited the money, the ostensible proceeds of a booming auto trade, into the Lebanese Canadian Bank, so named because it was once a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada Middle East.

But the numbers did not add up. The car lots in the United States, many owned by Lebanese émigrés and one linked to a separate Hezbollah weapons-smuggling scheme, were not moving nearly enough merchandise to account for all that cash, American officials said. What was really going on, they concluded, was that European drug proceeds were being intermingled with the car-sale cash to make it appear legitimate.

Hezbollah received its cut either from the exchange houses, or via the bank itself, according to the D.E.A. And the Treasury Department concluded that Iran also used the bank to avoid sanctions, with Hezbollah’s envoy to Tehran serving as go-between.

And we only indicted the guy running this plot, Ayman Joumaa, in November, 10 months after Treasury designated Ayman Joumaa as a Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers.

Of course, November 23 is roughly two months after Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian used car broker whose finances had a remarkable uptick in the last two years, during which period he largely left South Texas, was arrested.

And while all of the ties Treasury noted in January were to Colombian drug networks, November’s indictment rolled out this week includes a Los Zetas angle.

It was part of the conspiracy that the defendant and his co-conspirators coordinated the shipment of at least tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia, through Central America and Mexico, to the United States, including but not limited to 85,000 kilograms ofcocaine shipped from Colombia for sale to Los Zetas drug cartel from in and around 2005 through in and around 2007.

I’ll come back to this later–I’m watching Robert Mueller repeat that it’s more important for FBI to entrap Muslim kids than to crack down on financial fraud at SJC.

But I’d suggest that the discovery of Scary Iran Plot as a side angle to Scary Used Auto Broker Plot would explain a lot of the problems with the case.

Update: One other thing: I’m curious why DOJ sealed the Joumaa indictment from November 23 to December 12. I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s worth noting that Hezbollah and Iran rolled up US and Israeli spy rings during that period.

 

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

4 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    “…But I’d suggest that the discovery of Scary Iran Plot as a side angle to Scary Used Auto Broker Plot would explain a lot of the problems with the case…”

    I think you’re on to something here! I wonder if your appropriately named Narc fits in the picture here?

    And should the Feds succeed in convicting “Junior”, will Narc (and heck, perhaps even Arbabsiar) be in the picture for a finder’s fee for some of that $850 million forfeiture proceeds?

    That could pay for quite the comfortable life in Witness Protection, doncha think?

  2. MadDog says:

    The captured wiretap conversations between Arbabsiar and Shakuri take on a greater resonance now:

    “…With you, no, you…that amount is fine [UI] brought me another car. Tell him to finish his work, then we’ll give him the rest. He should buy the car for us first…”

  3. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Good point. I’d argue that it also might explain Arbabsiar’s references to the Quds Force PAYING (not being paid) some entity.

  4. Mary says:

    Good points in the post and the comments. It makes the used car dealer slash Iranian assassination plot coordinator tie that much more, um, “squiffy”

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