US releases and deports alleged Hezbollah financier to Lebanon

The US has released an alleged Hezbollah financier 23 years after he was sentenced to life in prison for funneling money to the Iran-backed group and leading a cigarette smuggling ring throughout the United States and Canada.

Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, initially sentenced to 155 years, was serving a 30-year prison term.

It is unclear why he was released ahead of schedule. Al Arabiya English has contacted the US Justice Department and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for comment.

He was seen being carried on the shoulders of friends and family upon arriving in Beirut on Wednesday. Shortly after landing, Hammoud had multiple interviews with Hezbollah-affiliated media outlets.

Hammoud vehemently denied accusations that he sent money to Hezbollah. “I would be proud to send money to Hezbollah, and I could say I sent money to Hezbollah. But in 1999… I did not send a penny to Lebanon,” he said in one video, sitting in front of a portrait of Iran’s supreme leader, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and the slain Qassem Soleimani.

Hammoud alleges that he was set up by another Lebanese man in the US who was arrested for various charges. He was subsequently given a lesser sentence for providing information about Hammoud. Hammoud says the man provided false information to US authorities.

US authorities arrested Hammoud in 2000 after he illegally entered the country eight years earlier. He was arrested after a multi-agency investigation involving looking into his support for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, and it is illegal to provide any material support to the group.

ICE previously said Hammoud lived in the US by virtue of three “sham marriages” to US citizens until his arrest.

He was initially sentenced to 155 years in prison. Hammoud appealed the sentencing, which made its way to the Supreme Court before all his convictions were upheld except an original sentence. The sentence was then reduced to 30 years.

The US also released another alleged Hezbollah financier ahead of schedule in recent years. Kassem Tajideen, arrested in Morocco and extradited to the US in 2017, was sentenced to five years and ordered to forfeit $50 million in 2019.

Tajideen, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US, had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments in furtherance of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

He, too, denied being a Hezbollah financier and was released after a motion for compassionate release was filed due to health reasons. He remains designated as a terrorist in the US.

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