The treasury department in the US has sanctioned three Paraguayans for money laundering and import-export offences based in the Tri-Border Area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.
The trio are led by ‘despachante’ Kassem Mohamad Hijazi who controlled a global money-laundering organisation in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. It reputedly has the capability to process hundreds of millions of dollars of dirty money.
Despachantes, or dispatchers, are individuals skilled at navigating complex bureaucracies, which lack transparency and accountability, in countries such as Paraguay by using their expansive networks of government officials to create legal and illegal business opportunities.
Paraguay’s authorities this week arrested Kassem in Ciudad del Este, flew him to the capital Asuncion and charged him with money laundering drug proceeds, the UPI news agency reported. He is wanted by the US justice department.
Paraguay’s national anti-drug secretariat described his arrest as of high strategic value for the US and Paraguay.
According to the US treasury, Kassem maintains strong ties with Paraguayan politicians, police officers, lawyers and money exchange brokers in Ciudad del Este which has allowed him to operate in the area since at least 2018.
“He also maintains connections to Paraguayan government officials to avoid law enforcement action against his money-laundering organisation,” the treasury added.
In addition, Kassem uses import-export companies such as Espana Informatica to sell goods from the US with the profits then moving through currency exchange offices and banks in Ciudad del Este to the US, China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
“Kassem’s network of front companies and business relationships allow him to move illicit proceeds all around the world with ease, his network extending as far as the United States, South America, Europe, the Middle East and China,” the treasury said.
He also avoids taxation and launders money through importation by altering invoices to reduce the goods’ value, the department alleges.
The treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated him, Espana Informatica, other companies, Espana Informatica’s president Khalil Ahmad Hijazi, and Liz Paola Doldan Gonzalez.
She is described as one of Kassem’s associates who works as an intermediary, paying bribes to port workers, despachantes and Paraguayan customs officials.
According to the treasury, she also used her Paraguayan company, Mobile Zone International Import-Export, to simulate importation of lower-cost items than the cell phones she brings in to reduce the company’s tax bill. Mobile Zone has also been designated.
That form of sanctioning means all property and interests in property of the three people and named companies in the US, or controlled by US citizens, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.
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