Updated: Oct 12, 2018
In coordination with Argentinian and Paraguayan authorities, Brazilian police reportedly arrested Assad Ahmad Barakat on September 21 in the Tri-Border city of Foz do Iguaçu. A Libyan national, Barakat is suspected of money laundering and has a record of tax evasion, for which he was previously imprisoned in Paraguay. Furthermore, in 2004 the U.S. Department of Treasury identified him as a top financier of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group. According to a report recently released by Argentina’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), Barakat’s money laundering operations amount to 10 million USD. Additionally, although evidence against him has not been found, he is suspected of being involved in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires.
The Tri-Border area has long been known to serve as a safe haven for criminals involved in money laundering and counterfeiting activities, which account for an estimated 43 billion USD a year. Western intelligence services maintain that these sums are invested in financing transnational militant groups, including Hezbollah, which capitalizes on connections with members of the large local Shiite population. Argentina is likely to request Barakat’s extradition on grounds of its financial investigation, using the opportunity to move forward with the ongoing investigations concerning the AMIA bombing. Given that Argentinian governing officials have invested political capital in solving the case, authorities are liable to exert political pressure to secure Barkat’s extradition. In any event, unless Barkat’s detention leads to further operations, at this point his arrest is unlikely to come as a major blow to Hezbollah or to undermine organized crime in the Tri-Border area.