The US is clamping down on trade-based money laundering (TBML) involving transactions between businesses mainly in Miami and New York and firms in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second largest city.

Located in the so-called Tri-Border Area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, Ciudad del Este is renowned for selling everything from counterfeit electronic products to contraband cigarettes at heavily discounted prices.

Extradition expected

Lebanese money exchange owner and alleged Hezbollah financier, Nader Mohammad Farhat, faces extradition from Paraguay in one TBML case.

 He has been charged alongside one of his customers, Mahmoud Ali Barakat, who imports mobile phones from the US to his chain of stores in Paraguay, with conspiring to commit money laundering by promoting drug trafficking, unlicensed money transmitting and wire fraud.

Linked cases

New York federal prosecutor Charles Kelly said in a court filing that Barakat bought mobile phones from companies owned by a defendant in a related TBML case, Enayatullah Khwaja, a New Yorker who owns and manages Tronix Telecom.

Farhat’s money exchange business was allegedly used to transfer payments for these transactions.

Orchestrated TBML

Barakat and Farhat “helped to orchestrate the trade-based money laundering scheme together with defendants in the [Khwaja] case,” according to Kelly.

The prosecutor also said bulk cash payments of illicit proceeds were often directed in Paraguay by Farhat and Barakat for delivery to defendants in New York using other defendants in the Khwaja case.