October 21, 2008
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian authorities said on Tuesday they broke up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hezbollah guerrillas.
More than 100 suspects were arrested in Colombia and overseas on charges they trafficked drugs and laundered cash for Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel and for outlawed paramilitaries in a network that stretched from South America to Asia, the attorney's general office said.
"The criminal organization used routes through Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, Middle East and Europe, bringing in cash from the sale of these substances," the statement said.
Among those arrested in Colombia were three people suspected of coordinating drug smuggling to send some of their profits to groups such as Hezbollah, the office said.
Those suspects -- Chekry Mahmoud Harb, Ali Mohamad Abdul Rahim and Zacaria Hussein Harb -- used front companies to send drug cash overseas, it said without providing further details.
Colombia, a key U.S. ally, remains the world's No. 1 cocaine producer, although over the last seven years Washington has sent more than $5 billion in aid that has helped weaken the country's FARC rebels and reduce violence from its conflict.
Washington has often complained that Iran-backed Hezbollah and other Islamic groups that it considers terrorist organizations are active in Arab communities in South American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.
(Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by John O'Callaghan)