Courts & Crime

Feds seize 3 Florida businessmen for ties to Hezbollah

MIAMI — Federal agents have arrested three South Florida businessmen accused of exporting video games and other electronic products to a shopping mall in Paraguay that allegedly served as a front to finance the terrorist group Hezbollah, according to sources familiar with the case.

The Miami-Dade businessmen arrested late Thursday, Khaled Safadi, Emilio Gonzalez-Neira and Ulises Talavera-Campos, will appear in federal court Friday afternoon to face charges related to a Treasury Department ban on doing business with the black-listed militia and political organization based in Lebanon, sources said.

One other suspect in South America has been charged in the investigation, led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment because the indictment charging the four men has not been unsealed.

The three Miami-Dade businessmen are accused of exporting hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of PlayStation 2 video games and digital cameras to a shopping center called Galeria Page in Paraguay, which the U.S. government has designated as a funding arm of Hezbollah.

Galeria Page, located in Ciudad del Este, serves as a Hezbollah fundraising source in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, according to a Treasury Department press statement issued in December 2006. It is considered the central headquarters for Hezbollah members in the region.

Hezbollah members operate retail businesses in Galeria Page to support Hezbollah, according to the press release. Muhammad Yusif Abdallah, a manager of Galeria Page, paid a regular quota to Hezbollah based on profits he received from the mall, the statement says. In the Dec. 6, 2006, release, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said the mall was part of a South American network that aided Assad Ahmad Barakat, who has been on the U.S. terrorist blacklist since 2004.

``Assad Ahmad Barakat's network in [South America] is a major financial artery to Hezbollah in Lebanon,'' Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the release. ``Today's action aims to disrupt this channel and to further unravel Barakat's financial network.''

Related stories from McClatchy DC