Three men were charged in an indictment unsealed Friday with illegally exporting electronics and video games to a South American shopping center that U.S. officials claim funnels money to the Hezbollah militant group.
The men, along with a fourth still being sought in South America, are accused of violating a U.S. ban on transactions involving people or entities on a Treasury Department list of suspected terrorist fundraising networks. Hezbollah, which is fiercely anti-Israel and allied with Iran, is considered a terrorist group by the U.S.
The shopping center, Galeria Page in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, was included on the banned list in December 2006 along with owner Muhammad Yusif Abdallah. Abdallah is described as a senior Hezbollah leader in a region of South America long considered a haven for counterfeiting, smuggling, piracy and other crimes.
The suspects arrested in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation were identified in court documents as Khaled Safadi, 56, and Emilio Gonzalez, 43, both of Miami; and 46-year-old Ulises Talavera-Campos, a citizen of Paraguay.
Attorney Michael Tein represents Safadi, whom he said is innocent.
"Terrorism?" Tein said. "More like 'The Great Sony Playstation Caper.' The indictment literally charges them with selling Playstation 2 video games to Paraguay. That's some weapon of mass destruction."
It wasn't immediately clear if the other two had attorneys, and a bail hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.
The men also face charges of conspiracy and smuggling. They face a maximum of 35 years each in prison if convicted.
According to the indictment, the three men ran companies that used the Port of Miami to move goods including Sony Playstation video game consoles, digital cameras and other items that eventually wound up at the Paraguay destination. About $1 million in exports were identified by ICE, the FBI, Treasury officials and other investigators with Miami's Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The men allegedly used fake invoices, false addresses and phony names to mask the true destination of the goods. The companies involved also were indicted.
John Morton, assistant Homeland Security secretary for ICE, said the arrests will disrupt a network involved in "the illicit trade of commodities that support terrorist activities and ultimately threaten the national security of the United States."
Hezbollah, which means "Party of God" in Arabic, fought a 2006 war with Israel and has been blamed for numerous suicide bombings and other attacks. The Lebanon-based group has become a more conventional political entity in recent years, holding seats in Lebanon's parliament as well as two Cabinet posts.