ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Three Lebanese suspects were extradited to the United States on Feb. 24. Two were sent to the U.S. to face narcotics-trafficking charges and the other for allegedly selling stolen cell phone and used cars to generate income for extremist activities in Lebanon.
Nemir Ali Zhayter and Amer Zoher El Hossni, who were wanted by the United States on cocaine trafficking chargers, were taken into custody by agents of Paraguay’s National Counternarcotics Secretariat (SENAD) on Aug. 6, 2008. They were arrested at the Paraná Country Club, in Ciudad del Este on Paraguay’s “Triple Frontier” with Brazil and Argentina.
Mousa Ali Hamdan, a dual U.S.-Lebanese national, is accused of allegedly buying goods he suspected were stolen from an undercover U.S. official. Hamdan is suspected of buying more than 1,700 cell phones, 400 Sony PlayStation2 systems and three used cars after the undercover U.S official told him the funds would be used to finance Hezbollah.
Hamdan could be sentenced to 25 years in prison if he’s found guilty on all of the 31 charges filed against him in Philadelphia in November 2009.
“The Embassy of the United States in Paraguay requested the extradition of Mousa Ali Hamdan, a citizen of Lebanon and the United States. The request presented by the Diplomatic Representation of the United States indicates he is accused of 31 crimes,” according to Paraguayan Ministry of Foreign Relations statement released in June of last year.
Zhayter and El Hossni are suspected of being responsible for sending massive shipments of cocaine from Paraguay to the United States, Europe and the Middle East, according to SENAD.
“Both foreigners (Zhayter and El Hossni) belong to an international criminal organization which is responsible for massive shipments of cocaine from South America to the United States, in addition to European countries and the Middle East,” SENAD said in a statement. “In 2008, stemming from a series of seizures of the drug in Paraguay, the shipment of which was intercepted by the SENAD on several occasions, the Lebanese were discovered to be operating on a large scale from our country.”
Zhayter and El Hossni’s arrests were carried out through an undercover operation called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), said María Mercedes Castiñeira, the special agent who heads SENAD’s Communications Division.
Castiñeira said that 10.5 kilograms (23.1 pounds) of cocaine were seized from Zhayter’s home, along with “tools to make cocaine capsules.”
Castiñeira said agents from SENAD, Interpol Paraguay and the Police Special Forces Unit transferred the three prisoners from Tacumbú prison to a Paraguayan Air Force base, where they were placed in the custody of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“They were boarded onto an airplane and escorted by U.S. security agents,” Castiñeira said. “Criminal Court Judge Oscar Delgado and attorney general for International Affairs of the Public Ministry, Emilio Oviedo, were present [to certify the extradition].”
Miguel Chaparro, SENAD’s chief of operations, alleges Zhayter and El Hossni were in charge of shipping cocaine to the United States and other countries in Europe and the Middle East.
“We had knowledge that another group of drug traffickers was operating in Ciudad del Este,” Chaparro said. “That group, [headed by Zhayter and El Hossni] was operating out of Paraná Country Club, an exclusive neighborhood in Ciudad del Este. The criminal group’s mode of operations was to send capsules of cocaine to Europe and the United States.”
Chaparro continued: “The DEA investigated and determined that these people also seem to have supported narco-terrorist groups financially. Since Paraguay holds extradition agreements with several countries, the U.S. Department of Justice requested these three citizens be extradited, after they were being held at the Tacumbú prison.”
Chaparro said SENAD’s policy is to honor extradition requests made by other countries, especially those received by the United States.
“I wish there were 10 extradition requests (of drug traffickers) made every day,” Chaparro said. “We won’t keep them as decorations or tourist attractions here in Paraguay. They are criminals, there’s a reason they are in prison, and if there is an extradition request, we will comply quickly.”
Chaparro said several heads of organized crime groups that are based in Brazil have been extradited from Paraguay. The latest was Elson Cequeira, who was arrested on Feb. 23 at the airport in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, on the border with Brazil. Cequeira was wanted in his country, accused of belonging to narcotics-trafficking organization Primeiro Comando de Santa Catarina (PCSC).
“We know there are criminal structures installed in our country, such as the PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital, from São Paulo) and the Comando Vermelho (a drug trafficking group based in Rio de Janeiro),” Chaparro said. “We will continue to fight against narco-terrorism, since the U.S. has serious indications that these extradited persons (the three Lebanese) were directing money toward terrorist practices.”
Chaparro said extraditing the suspected criminals is a step toward getting rid of organized crime in the landlocked nation.
“We shouldn’t wait until there are cells of these terrorist groups installed in Paraguay, we have to keep fighting to nip them at the bud,” he said. “This way, when there is an extradition request, we can comply quickly.”