Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

Tri-Border Area Under Increasing Financial Scrutiny
Last week the New York Post reported that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau had shut down a "massive terror-finance pipeline in which a whopping $3 billon in profits from drug deals and other crimes flowed through a major New York bank to Middle East fanatics." Turns out, according to senior government officials, the bank is the Bank of America. Morgenthau is pursuing possible penalties, but it is not at all clear the bank did anything knowingly wrong. No criminal charges have been filed.

What is clear, however, is that an account in the bank recieved billions of dollars in deposits an unregulated exchange house doing business in South America's Tri-border Area, the relativly lawless region around Iguazu Falls where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet. The money was flowing through New York to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the West Bank. Enough to make one sit up and take notice.

Several law enforcement and intelligence services are struggling to get a real handle on what goes on in the Tri-border Area. It has been clear for decades that the region is awash not only in drug money, but in contraband profits and smuggling profits. It is also known as a haven for Hamas financiers, Hezbollah money men, and a visiting site for leaders of al Qaeda. Like West Africa, Panama and other ethnic enclaves, the region is hard to penetrate because most of the businesses, both legitimate and criminal, are run by families and clans. Reporting requirements are scarce and those that exist are easily circumvented.

As the Colombian and Brazilian cocaine and heroin cartels have sought new ways to avoid detection, they have increasingly routed their money through the unregulated exchange houses and quasi-financial institutions that have flourished in the Tri-border region. None of the countries that have theoretic jurisdiction over the area want to tackle the problem. The economic and policital cost could be high.

Unfortunately, the cost of doing nothing is far higher. There is simply too much money moving through the area's money laundering apparatus to not be doing huge amounts of damage. The international branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the stem of all radical Islamist financial structures, is active there. Drug money flows through unabated, and no one asks any questions.

Fortunately, this is an area where the U.S has great expertise, largely residing in the DEA. The organization, under-utilized in the struggle with terrorists, developed a first-rate understanding of tracking and interdicting money flows. That is one of the reasons the drug groups have moved to the region in the first place. Now, it is time to let the organization in the game in a serious way, re-establish the expertise that once existed, and shut down a dangerous river of money.

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