Leaked Files Show Iran’s Hands In Unofficial Lebanese Banking
Hacked files of the financial arm of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Al-Qard al-Hasan Association (AQAH), circulated on the Internet by a group calling itself SpiderZ reveal account information of a number of Iranian entities including the office of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
In an article published Tuesday [May 11], the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington-based think-tank and lobby group, published information pertaining to Iran drawn from the files.
According to FDD, AQAH uses personal accounts of employees at major Lebanese banks, allegedly with the banks' knowledge, to provide Hezbollah access to the international financial system, to a transfer system similar to hawala, and to exchange houses. The Association’s total activity from 1983 until the end of 2019 reportedly amounted to $3.5 billion.
Hezbollah has designed various means to evade US sanctions. As well as AQAH, most of the Iranian entities and organizations named in the documents − including the Revolutionary-Guards-affiliated Mahan Air, government-owned Iran Air, the state broadcaster IRIB, and Saderat Bank − have been sanctioned by the US in the past or are still under sanctions. The Lebanese branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, a charitable organization, the Iranian Red Crescent, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) also have accounts with AQAH, which operates ATMs in parts of Lebanon.
The hacked documents indicate that the Lebanese branch of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation, which provides financial support to the families of those killed in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), also has an account with AQAH. The Foundation, the FDD report alleges, channels funds from Iran across the region, especially through its Lebanese branch.
Among major Iranian individual account holders and dispositors at AQAH, FDD has – based on the hacked files – named Issa Tabatabaei, who represents Khamenei in Lebanon and oversees several Iranian institutions there including the Association of Imam Khomeini Cultural Centers.
Saderat, the only Iranian bank named in the documents, is shown to have eight correspondent accounts with AQAH, four in Lebanese liras and four in dollars. The bank was designated in 2006 for ties with groups listed as ‘terrorist’ by the US Treasury and barred from transactions through the US financial system, although the sanction was lifted after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. "It is possible Bank Saderat could clear funds hawala-style through AQAH’s various accounts with Lebanese banks," the FDD wrote.
The documents also list an account for the Iranian leader’s office, listed in Persian as vali-e faqih. The documents also reveal an account for “the embassy,” possibly the Iranian mission in Beirut.