Lebanese businessman Qasim Tajuddin, who was released by the United States after spending three years in prison for “defrauding the US penal code,” returned to Beirut on Wednesday.
Washington accuses Taj al-Din, which it put on the terrorism list in 2009, of being “one of the leading financiers of the Lebanese Hezbollah” that it classifies as a terrorist organization.
Who is Qasim Taj Al-Din, what is the story of his arrest, the charges against him, the reasons for the recent release and the circumstances of his release?
Taj El-Din remained a figure working in the shadows and did not shed much light on him, until the moment of his arrest in Morocco in March of 2017, when he was arrested by the airport security authorities in Casablanca while he was on a trip from the Guinean capital, Conakry, to Lebanon.
The Moroccan authorities said that the arrest came according to an international arrest warrant at the request of the US Department of Justice, which we have listed on its terrorism list, and they rushed to deport him to the United States a week later.
The public prosecutor published data on Tajuddin’s commercial activities and bank transfers, accusing him of running a business network in Lebanon and Africa that is pumping millions of dollars to Hezbollah.
A statement by the US Department of Justice said at the time that the arrest came in the wake of a large investigation, to which several federal agencies had participated. As the Customs and Border Protection and the US Drug Enforcement Administration, it lasted about two years.
Analysts say that this investigation was part of a broad security operation known as “Cassandra” aimed at uncovering the Hezbollah financing network and also involved security services from seven European countries.
A financial empire
The US prosecution filed a number of charges against Crown debt, some of which related to financing terrorism, but its defense team was able to conclude an agreement with the prosecution stipulating its approval of one exclusively charge: “defrauding the American Penal Code” and buying goods from American companies.
Prosecution documents indicated that, despite being placed on the terrorist financing list in 2009, he managed to camouflage a number of his companies and accounts, continue to buy goods from American companies, and make bank transfers amounting to about $ 50 million until the time of issuing an arrest warrant against him.
Taj Al-Din accepted, according to the judicial agreement, the payment of $ 50 million in compensation for the breach of US money laws and penalties, and a court in Washington sentenced him to five years in prison starting from the moment of his arrest.
Reports quoted US officials as saying that one of the brothers of Taj al-Din is a former Hezbollah field leader who owns a contracting company whose revenues go to fund the party.
The brothers run the Taj al-Din commercial empire that includes commercial and real estate companies whose activities extend between Africa and Belgium (which Taj al-Din owns its nationality alongside his Lebanese nationality) and the Middle East. These companies are active in The Gambia, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and the British Virgin Islands.
Deal or seek a humanitarian
Tajuddin was supposed to remain in prison until 2023, but his lawyer filed a request to release him over the age of 65 and suffering from serious health problems that made him vulnerable to an HIV epidemic.
On May 27, a US judge agreed to release him as a prisoner who had been approved by the US judiciary to reduce their prison terms and release them after the Coruna epidemic.
The family of Taj al-Din said in a statement issued on the occasion of his return that his release came after “a humanitarian petition filed by his lawyers before the Federal Court in Washington, according to the American law that allows the release of those facing because of his age the threat of the complications of the Corona virus, and spent a significant part of his sentence, and does not constitute a danger on the society”.
She explained that his return to Lebanon was delayed despite his release on May 27 because he is “not an American citizen, because his return to Beirut was associated with complicated mechanisms due to his legal status and the current travel conditions, which delayed this return until a plane that provided him from the United States to Lebanon had a plane available I arrived in Beirut this morning. ”
However, numerous press reports linked the release of Taj Al-Din to the release two months ago of Omar Al-Fakhouri, who holds American and Lebanese citizenship, and who was arrested by the Lebanese authorities during a visit to Lebanon, accusing him of committing war crimes and torture while he was in custody of Khiam prison during the period of the Israeli invasion For southern Lebanon.
Some speculation indicated a comprehensive package that included Iran that released the American citizen Michael White, who was detained by the Revolutionary Guards in 2018 during a visit to a friend in Tehran, and the release of the American authorities, Majeed Taheri, an Iranian citizen who was sentenced for exporting information and materials to Iran despite The penalties imposed on her.
However, Taj al-Din’s attorneys deny the existence of any exchange deal behind his release, and none of the authorities of the aforementioned countries has confirmed this press speculation.
Taj al-Din’s return to Beirut comes at a time when the country is suffering from the worst economic crisis in recent decades, and escalating tension between Hezbollah and the United States, which caused the party’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to describe Tuesday her ambassador in Lebanon as “the military ruler” with more tension.
Nasrallah’s comments came in response to the accusation of the American ambassador to the party of stealing millions of dollars from the Lebanese state’s treasury.