In 2000, the United States government enacted the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, simply known as “The Kingpin Act.” Under this mandate, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) arm can identify individuals, companies and properties as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers (SDNTK’s). Once identified as such, these people and properties are cut off from any financial assistance from the United States and are barred from doing any business with American companies/individuals. Since 2000, sanctions have been imposed on over 1,700 SDNTK’s added to this list. This year, since January 16th, over a thousand SDNTK’s have been designated and listed. In October, SDNTK’s number 1702 through 1733 were added to the list. The latest additions are as follows:
The Merhi Ali Abou Merhi Organization
On October 1st, Lebanese maritime shipping businessman Merhi Ali Abou Merhi was added to the list, along with others for aiding the Joumaa criminal organization, led by Colombian-Lebanese drug trafficker/money launderer Ayman Saied Joumaa. The Joumaa outfit was designated by the OFAC in 2011, and Ayman Saied Joumaa was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for shipping 85,000 kilos of cocaine and laundering $250 million. He remains a fugitive from the law. His organization has ties to Islamist militant organization Hezbollah.
Along with Merhi, several of his businesses, under the holding company the Abou Merhi Group, in Africa, the Middle East and Europe were blacklisted. These businesses include: Abou-Merhi Cruises SAL (Lebanon travel agency); Le-Mail-Saida (Lebanon shopping mall); Queens Stations (Lebanon gas station); Orient Queen Homes (Lebanon real estate development); Lebanon Center (Jordan shopping mall); and Abou Merhi Charity Institution (Lebanon).
The following maritime shipping subsidiaries were also blacklisted: Abou Merhi Cotonou (Benin); Abou Merhi Nigeria; Abou Merhi Hamburg (Germany). Abou Merhi ships have also been blacklisted: City of Antwerp, City of Lutece, City of Misurata, City of Tokyo and the Orient Queen II.
The listed companies stand accused of acting as a means of transportation for the Joumaa organization and washing its money. Blacklisted for their management roles in these companies include Lebanese and German nationals Houeda Ahmad Nesreddine a.k.a. Houeida Abou Merhi, Ahmad El Berzi, Wajdi Youseff Nasr, Hana Merhi Abou Merhi and Atef Merhi Abou Merhi.
The Rosenthal Money Laundering Organization
Less than a week later, on October 6th, the OFAC designated Honduran nationals Jaime Rolando Rosenthal, Yani Benjamin Rosenthal Hidalgo (son), Yankel Antonio Rosenthal Coello (nephew) and a number of companies as SDNTK’s. They stand accused of supporting multiple drug organizations in Central America as a means of money laundering.
The Rosenthal central Rosenthal entity that was blacklisted by the OFAC is known as Grupo Continental, the parent company for numerous Honduran businesses in the areas of banking, financial services, real estate, agriculture, construction, tourism and media. Grupo Continental’s agricultural arm, Alimentos Continental and financial institutions Grupo Financiero Continental and Banco Continental in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, are listed. This is the first time a foreign bank has ever been blacklisted.
Other blacklisted Rosenthal entities include British Virgin Island holdings Shelimar Investment, Ltd.; Desland Overseas, Ltd.; and Preyden Investments, Ltd.. The Rosenthals reach also extended into the U.S., Florida to be exact, with the blacklisted Inverciones Continental, Corp., as well as Shelimar Real Estate Holdings II and III, Inc..
The Rosenthals, along with an unnamed fourth individual were indicted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Only Yankel Antonio Rosenthal Coello has been arrested.
Bo Peng & Kakai Technologies
On October 15th, Bo Peng (a.k.a. Kevin Peng) was added to the SDNTK list, along with Kakai Technology Co., Ltd., a company that he controls in China. Kakai is a pharmaceutical and chemical distributor accused of slinging synthetic drugs to the United States and other countries.
Peng is accused of shipping 2,000 kilos of synthetic cannabinoids (synthetic weed) and cathinones (bath salts) since 2011. Both of these are Schedule I or II controlled substances in the US. Synthetic weed, bath salts and other drugs, like alpha-PVP and ethylone, are advertised on Kakai’s website and websites for alternate companies (Nanjing Kakai technology Co., Ltd and Nanjing Kakai Polyurethane Co., Ltd). Peng and associates then process orders (paid for with Bitcoins or bank wire transfers), package them and ship them to customers who either use them or redistribute them.
A grand jury in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida indicted Bo Peng in May of this year for importing/conspiring to import ethylone and methylone (Schedule I). His operation at Kakai was pinpointed by Project Synergy, a joint task force for the investigation of synthetic drug activity by the OFAC and DEA.
According to the Treasury’s website:
Since June 2000, more than 1,800 entities and individuals have been named pursuant to the Kingpin Act for their role in international narcotics trafficking. Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1.075 million per violation to more severe criminal penalties. Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $5 million. Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million. Other individuals could face up to 10 years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.
See the OFAC’s complete list of international kingpins here.