US lawmakers voted Tuesday to thwart efforts to fund Hezbollah by punishing banks and other financial organizations that help the funneling of money to the Lebanese Shiite militant group.
The House of Representatives voted unanimously to broaden financial sector sanctions on Hezbollah and allow the US Treasury more power to “relentlessly” pursue foreign banks, including central banks, that do business with the group that Washington designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1995.
The Senate would need to pass the legislation before President Barack Obama signs it into law. The bill has yet to be placed on the Senate calendar.
“This bill builds on the existing sanctions regime by placing Hezbollah’s sources of financing under additional scrutiny, particularly those resources outside of Lebanon,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce said shortly before the vote.
And the US sanctions would help reduce Hezbollah’s global reach, he said.
“We must be focused on some 5,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria, massive international drug and money laundering operations, and the terrorist organization’s acquisition of advanced missile systems,” Royce added.
The bill would target what it says are Hezbollah’s criminal activities by calling on Obama to label the group a narcotics trafficking organization, with lawmakers warning of the groups systematic use of narcotics trafficking networks as a fundraising tool.
The measure would also label Hezbollah a transnational criminal organization, compelling the administration to take action to counter the group’s engagement in money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
Hezbollah strongly backs the Islamic militant wing of Hamas in its bloody two-week war with Israel.
On July 10 the US Treasury blacklisted the Stars Group Holding, a Beirut-based network of companies accused of helping Hezbollah procure military equipment.
In 2011 Treasury sanctioned the Lebanese Canadian Bank, accusing it of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from a narcotics network. The bank, which has since been dissolved, paid a fine of $102 million to US authorities in 2013 to avoid prosecution.