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2 Lebanese Nationals Charged With Sanctions Avoidance Scheme

Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, a citizen of Lebanon and Belgium, and Talal Chahine, a Lebanese citizen, were charged as part of a conspiracy to launder money, cause U.S. citizens to conduct illegal transactions with a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and conduct illegal transactions with a sanctioned terrorist, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Feb. 24. Each charge carries the possible punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

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In 2018, the U.S. sanctioned Bazzi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for helping finance Hezbollah, a listed terrorist organization in Lebanon. After his designation, Bazzi, along with Chahine, allegedly conspired to force an unnamed U.S. individual to liquidate interests in "certain real estate assets located in Michigan and covertly transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds of the liquidation out of the United States to Bazzi and Chahine in Lebanon without the requisite OFAC licenses, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act."

During recorded communications, the defendants floated numerous ways to hide that Bazzi was the recipient of the sale, DOJ said. It said suggestions discussed included transferring the funds through a Chinese third party as part of a fake purchase of restaurant equipment or through a Lebanese third party as part of a false real estate purchase. They also discussed transferring the funds through Chahine's Kuwait-based family members and as part of a fake franchising agreement for a Lebanese-based restaurant chain in the U.S.