The US added Two Lebanese Linked with Hezbollah running an amusement park in Nigeria to SDN List
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control added two Lebanese to its Specially Designated Nationals SDN list on February 26. The two men, Fouzi Reda Darwish Fawaz and Mustapha Reda Darwish Fawaz, are living and working in Nigeria.
The two men whom are suspected to be members of Hezbollah terrorist group, according to the department, have their businesses added to the sanctions list. What this means is that the US believes that those businesses are used to further Hezbollah’s activities which is active in every continent on earth with a strong base in Iran.
It was though noted on Twitter by Sam Cutler, a sanction law expert that businesses 50% or more by SDNs are automatically blocked and may be subject to designation. Three businesses which include a supermarket (Amigo in Wuse II, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital), Wonderland Amusement Park and Resort in Abuja and innocuously named enterprise in Kano, KAFAK ENTERPRISES LIMITED were added to the SDN list.
In 2013, an article on Haaretz reported that Fawazes store weapons in the amusement park. The article also noted that the supermarket alone was estimated to worth $35 million while two commanded a multimillion-dollar retail enterprise that benefitted Hezbollah.
According to the treasury citation, “Mustapha Fawaz seemed to have a fruitful diplomatic contacts, he provided Hezbollah with a report of his visit to the US embassy in Nigeria.” US Treasury also alleged that he exploited his supermarket’s international clientele, using special cameras to “monitor the movements of expatriates, especially Israelis.” Wonderland remains a well-known landmark in the Nigerian capital. The park’s opening ceremony in 2007 was attended by then-president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Wonderland Park occupies some 330,000 square meters. It’s “an ultra modern world class recreation centre, the first and the biggest most equipped amusement park in the whole of Nigeria,” a country of over 170 million people. Many elites and top citizens visit the site with their wards either on special days or just to cash some fun. I have been to the park twice, meeting in one occasion Nigeria’s most capped footballer and former arsenal player, Kanu Nwankwo with his family.
The Park has a Ferris wheel, a small roller coaster, restaurants, an arcade, a climbing wall, and an attractive entry gate designed like a medieval castle. The Fawazes were apparently highly public, well-known, and well-connected entrepreneurs with a diverse assortment of businesses.
There’s longstanding concern that Hezbollah has penetrated Nigeria. In May of 2013, a Hezbollah arms cache was found in northern Nigeria, while an illicit Iranian weapons shipment was impounded in a Nigerian port in 2010.
The Fawazes were charged in Nigeria over their Hezbollah connections in 2013. While investigations where on, their businesses where closed down and heavily guarded by armed police officers and the army.
It took the US Treasury almost 2 years to sanction the Fawazees. Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former terror finance analyst for the US Treasury, says that the US might have waited to list the Fawazes and their businesses because they wanted a comprehensive idea of the size of their business network and its connection to US-designated groups.
Schanzer says that a Treasury listing of Hezbollah-linked entities may be a subtle way to maintaining pressure on the Lebanon-based group’s main state sponsor: Iran. “On a broader level, we have seen increased congressional interest in going after Hezbollah because Treasury’s hands are somewhat tied so long as the [nuclear negotiating] process drags on.” Listing these entities at this point digs into Hezbollah financing “without explicitly hitting Iran,” Schanzer says.