SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia | The Bush administration is accusing the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of providing cash and refuge to the militant Islamist group Hezbollah of southern Lebanon.
An investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) names Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr al Din and Venezuelan-Arab businessman Fawzi Kanan as key links between the two.
“It is extremely troubling to see the government of Venezuela employing and providing safe harbor for Hezbollah facilitators and fundraisers,” said Adam Szubin, political affairs director of OFAC.
Mr. al Din has served as charge d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Syria and as director of political affairs at the embassy in Lebanon.
The Treasury Department made the accusations in a June 18 statement, which summarized an investigation of Venezuelan-registered businesses that are thought to be laundering money for Hezbollah.
The department also froze assets of Mr. al Din and Mr. Kanan and banned them from conducting business in the U.S. or with U.S. citizens and residents.
“Assets the designees hold under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions in property or interests in property blocked under the order,” the Treasury statement said.
Treasury’s report said Mr. al Din brought two Hezbollah parliamentary representatives to Venezuela in 2006 to “solicit donations” and open an “Islamic community center.”
The same report mentions the businessman, Mr. Kanan, who heads two travel agencies in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, as a “significant provider of financial support to Hezbollah.”
The U.S. accuses Mr. Kanan of having “met with senior Hezbollah officials in Lebanon to discuss operational issues,” as well as having “facilitated the travel of Hezbollah members to and from Venezuela.”
The U.S. accuses Mr. Kanan of planning “possible kidnapping and terrorist attacks” and of “traveling with other Hezbollah members to Iran for training.”
Contacted at the offices of his Biblos travel agency in Caracas, Mr. Kanan dismissed Treasury’s accusations as “lies.”
In a recent television broadcast, Mr. Chavez angrily denied any connection between his government and Hezbollah, claiming the U.S. charges represent an attempt “to see if the world takes action against me.”
Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro went further, saying the charges come from “the No. 1 terrorist in the world, George Bush.”
“There are no terrorists here. If they want to search for terrorists, look for them in the White House,” Mr. Maduro said.
Mr. al Din and Mr. Kanan were born in Lebanon’s Baalbeck region, according to the Treasury Department.
The latest allegations about Venezuela’s involvement with Hezbollah follow reports that Mr. Chavez personally aided guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist-based insurgency that has battled to overthrow the Colombian government for four decades.
The FARC connection is based on records in laptop computers seized by Colombian troops who raided a FARC camp in Ecuador in March.
Mr. Chavez claims the content is fabricated by U.S. intelligence officials working with the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who remains an ally of the U.S. in a region where governments have shifted to the left in recent years.
Mr. Chavez, a persistent antagonist of the U.S. who has called President Bush “the devil,” also has established strong business and commercial links with the Iranian government.
Mr. Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have exchanged state visits and agreed on more than $17 billion worth of joint ventures in energy, mining and industrial projects.
Iran and Syria are Hezbollah’s primary sponsors in the Middle East.