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Georgia business funding terrorism? | News

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Georgia business funding terrorism?
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FAIRBURN, Ga. -- It's a case of drug dealing, international money laundering and funneling money to a known terrorist group, Hezbollah. And there's a Georgia connection. 11Alive's Center for Investigative Action spent the day digging for clues as to how a local family has been caught up in it.

The family ran a used car dealership out of Fairburn and is alleged to have made more than $1 million in profit by selling used cars that ended up being part of an elaborate money laundering scheme to fund Hezbollah in Lebanon. The family is not accused of anything illegal and is not charged with a crime, but the dealership is one of 30 that federal agents have moved in on over the last couple of weeks to recover money.

It's all in a 75 page complaint filed by the US attorney in Manhattan. Thirty used car dealers in the U.S. are caught up in it, including Fairburn's Baaklini North America, Inc., which is alleged to have made $1.4 million, possibly selling cars to help fund Hezbollah.

Here's how it's supposed to have gone down: Since 2007 about $300 million in Lebanese drug money was reportedly funneled through financial institutions in North America. The money went to buy used cars in the U.S., which were then shipped to West Africa and sold. The laundered money was alleged to have been smuggled back to Lebanon.  

The owner of the Fairburn used car dealership, Georges Baaklini, is now leasing cars out of an office in Peachtree City. We caught up with him at his home a short distance away. He refused to answer questions and referred us to his attorney Chuck Sylvester.

"He's a victim," Sylvester said. "He's from Lebanon but has been doing international business for years."

Sylvester told us that his client had no knowledge of who his customers were and required money to be wired up front. He said he is confident Baaklini will be cleared and that money that was essentially frozen by federal agents will be returned.

As for Hezbollah? The official word is that the organization has no knowledge nor any connection to any money laundering scheme.

Sheik Naim Kassem said the Iran-backed Shiite Muslim group does not follow "a religiously prohibited path" to develop its resources and that the accusations were part of U.S. efforts to tarnish Hezbollah's image.

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