'Hawala' | 

Exposed: Johnny Morrissey, Hezbollah, and the multi-million euro laundering scheme

Spanish police revealed how Morrissey had used ‘Hawala’ to launder €200 million in just 18 months

Johnny Morrissey arrested at one of his Villas in Marbella© J.COSTA/SOLARPIX

Patrick O'ConnellSunday World

The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) cracked the ‘untraceable’ money transfer system used by Johnny Morrissey to launder €200 million in drug cash seven years ago.

Under Project Cassandra, the DEA began investigating the ‘Hawala’ money transfer system in Europe in 2015 after it established that Hezbollah, the Lebanese ‘terror organisation’, was using it to facilitate ‘the movement of large quantities of cocaine into Europe and the United States’.

Under the same operation, the DEA said it had identified participants in the ‘intricate network of money couriers who collect and transport millions of euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East.”

On Wednesday, two days after the high-profile arrest of the Kinahan cartel’s main money launderer Johnny Morrissey at his villa on the Costa Del Sol, Spanish police revealed how he had used Hawala to launder €200 million in just 18 months.

A spokesperson said: “The Civil Guard... has smashed the most important international criminal organisation that operated in Spain dedicated to money laundering.

“In a little over a year and a half they could have laundered more than €200 million through the system known as Hawala.”

Essentially, Hawala is an informal funds transfer system that allows for funds to be moved through intermediaries known as ‘hawaladars’, without the money itself ever moving across jurisdictions.

A hawaladar in one country can take receipt of the funds before contacting a hawaladar in another country who will pay out the equivalent sum in cash or goods – but the money itself does not have to cross borders.

No documentation is kept or recorded and the system works on trust between the hawaladars – making it the almost perfect system for terrorists and narcotics traffickers.

One of the many allegations facing Daniel Kinahan and the Kinahan organised crime group is that the cartel established ties with Hezbollah through its use of the Hawala system.

Details of how the Iranian-backed group used the system in Europe to finance terrorism and drug dealing were outlined by the DEA in February of 2016 – following the arrest of Mohamad Noureddine in an operation targeting Hezbollah’s External Security Business Affairs (BAC).

The DEA said the BAC was involved in international criminal activities such as drug trafficking and drug proceed money laundering.

It further identified the network as being responsible for the movement of large quantities of cocaine in the United States and Europe.

The DEA alleged Noureddine was a Lebanese money launderer who worked directly with Hezbollah’s financial apparatus to transfer Hezbollah funds via his Lebanon based company to terrorist elements in both Lebanon and Iraq.

The DEA said: “Beginning in February 2015, and based on DEA investigative leads, European authorities initiated an operation targeting the network’s criminal activities in that region.

“Since then, law enforcement authorities, closely supported by DEA, have uncovered an intricate network of money couriers who collect and transport millions of euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East.

“The currency is then paid in Colombia to drug traffickers using the Hawala disbursement system.

“A large portion of the drug proceeds was found to transit through Lebanon, and a significant percentage of these proceeds are benefiting terrorist organizations, namely Hezbollah.”

Following Morrissey’s arrest, at which DEA officers were present, a spokesperson for Spain’s Guardia Civil was able to give an overall estimate of €200 million as the sum he laundered through the system in just 18 months or €350,000 a day.

It is not thought all this money was laundered on behalf of the cartel as Morrissey is also believed to have had contact with other criminal organisations.

Following his arrest, Morrissey now faces the possibility of being extradited to the US to face charges.

Money laundering penalties in the US can be extremely harsh.

In Morrissey’s case this means he is likely to be charged over his activities facilitating international drug shipments and his ‘enforcement’ activities.

These crimes could see him sentenced to life imprisonment. Unless, of course, he agrees to turn on his associates.

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