National News Agency reported on Monday that Lebanese businessman, Merhi Abou Merhi, accused by US authorities of involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering for the benefit of the Iranian backed Hezbollah militant group , in collaboration with the Lebanese-Colombian Ayman Joumaa, has been cleared by American justice,
“The US Justice exonerated Merhi Abou Merhi, his family and all his companies of all US Treasury charges against him since October 2015,” says the government owned news agency NNA.
But the U.S. Treasury Department denied the report.
“Merhi Ali Abou Merhi, five others, and 11 companies were designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, on Oct. 1, 2015. They all remain designated,” read an email from the Treasury Department , according to the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper
“Claims that Mr. Merhi has been ‘found innocent of the claims by OFAC’ are inaccurate and there has been no action regarding Mr. Merhi that would change his status as a Specially Designated National and Blocked Person,” it continued.
Abou Merhi was blacklisted last October along with three other Lebanese, two Germans and 11 companies for facilitating the activities and having ties to a maritime network tied To “Joumaa Criminal Organization,” which has links with Hezbollah.
The Treasury said that the Lebanese and German individuals provide support for narcotics trafficking and money laundering activities conducted by Lebanese-Colombian drug trafficker and money launderer Ayman Saied Joumaa, key Joumaa associate Hassan Ayash, and the Joumaa criminal organization.
It said “any assets these designated entities and individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”
Abou Merhi Group has multiple subsidiaries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe including the following 10 designated companies: Abou-Merhi Lines SAL, a shipping line in Lebanon; Abou-Merhi Cruises (AMC) SAL, a travel agency in Lebanon; Le-Mall-Sidon, a shopping mall in south Lebanon; Queen Stations, a gas station in Lebanon; Orient Queen Homes, a real estate development in Lebanon; maritime shipping subsidiaries in Benin (Abou Merhi Cotonou), Nigeria (Abou Merhi Nigeria), and Germany (Abou Merhi Hamburg); Lebanon Center, a shopping mall in Jordan; and Abou Merhi Charity Institution in Lebanon.
The other Lebanese and German nationals on the list were designated for their management roles in Merhi’s various companies: Houeda Ahmad Nasreddine, also known as Houeida Abou Merhi; Ahmad El Bezri; Wajdi Youssef Nasr; Hana Merhi Abou Merhi; and Atef Merhi Abou Merhi.
Hana and Atef are Abou Merhi’s children.
On Jan. 26, 2011, OFAC designated the Joumaa drug trafficking and money laundering organization as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker pursuant to the Kingpin Act. On Nov. 3, 2011, Ayman Joumaa was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for coordinating the shipment of over 85,000 kilograms of cocaine and laundering in excess of $250 million in narcotics proceeds. Ayman Joumaa remains a fugitive.