U.S. authorities say they have seized $150 million linked to a scheme by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah to launder drug money.
Prosecutors in New York City announced Monday they used a seizure warrant to take the money from an escrow account in Lebanon.
The prosecutors filed a lawsuit last year demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in money-laundering penalties from Lebanese financial institutions and other entities.
Authorities had said that since 2007, more than $300 million was wired from Lebanon to the U.S. to buy used cars for resale in West Africa. Prosecutors said they had evidence Hezbollah used back channels to wire cash from the car sales and drug-dealing proceeds back to Lebanon.
The seizure of the funds highlights deepening tensions between the U.S. and Lebanon, which Washington accuses of dragging its feet in patrolling the organization's alleged involvement in international drug trafficking and terrorism, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The U.S. considers Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, a terrorist group.
"Money is the lifeblood of terrorist and narcotics organizations, and while banks which launder money for terrorists and narco-traffickers may be located abroad, today's announcement demonstrates that those banks and their assets are not beyond our reach," Preet Bharara, one U.S. attorney in Manhattan who was involved in the case, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying.
Hezbollah has denied any role in the drug trafficking and money laundering. The same Hezbollah money-laundering ring was also used to conceal and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds from West Africa back to Lebanon, the lawsuit said.