A shadowy businessman from the Lebanese diaspora was sentenced in Paris on Wednesday to seven years in prison for being a lead member of a crime ring that laundered Colombian drug money through luxury jewelry.
Mohamad Noureddine, a 44-year-old businessman with interests in real estate and jewelry, was convicted of laundering drug money and criminal conspiracy and fined 500,000 euros ($568,000).
He was arrested in France in January 2016 during police raids that also took place in Italy, Belgium and Germany, after an alert from the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
US officials, who have imposed sanctions on Noureddine over his supposed links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, suspect the network of operating between South America, Europe and the Middle East since 2012.
They identified France, where several of the defendants reside, as being at the centre of the syndicate’s operations in Europe. The proceeds of cocaine sales were allegedly collected in Europe, then channelled to Lebanon before being transferred to Colombian traffickers.
The funds were moved using a centuries-old system of payment dating from the spice trade called “hawala”, passing through a tested network requiring ironclad trust. After the drugs were sold, the network used hawala operatives to gather the proceeds.
The collected cash was then used to buy luxury jewelry, watches and cars which were resold in Lebanon or West Africa. Another key figure in the case, a man named Abbas Nasser, was sentenced to ten years in prison in absentia. He is subject to an arrest warrant.
Twelve other defendants involved in the criminal network received various sentences, up to nine years in jail.