ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – Dual Lebanese and American citizen residing in Vienna, Virginia today pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to launder money as part of a decade-long program to ship electronic equipment to a Hezbollah-owned television station in Lebanon. In addition, the defendant and her husband pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit tax evasion by concealing the income from her employment in Virginia.
“For more than a decade, Racha Farhat participated in a conspiracy to buy electronic equipment using the proceeds of illegal activities, which benefited a Lebanese Hezbollah-owned TV station,” said Raj Parekh, prosecutor. Acting American for the Eastern District of Virginia. “By working with our law enforcement partners, we will bring to justice those who use the US financial system to defend the interests of prohibited entities that engage in illegal activities abroad. “
According to court documents, Racha Farhat, 44, started laundering money in 2010 and continued to do so until the time of her arrest in February 2021. The scheme involved Farhat receiving money from an unindicted co-conspirator (UCC-1) in Lebanon, which she used to purchase electronic equipment in the United States. Farhat then shipped the items purchased by herself and other co-conspirators overseas, primarily to Lebanon, where UCC-1 supplied at least $ 175,000 in merchandise to Al Manar TV. Al Manar TV is a Lebanon-based television station owned and operated by Hezbollah. Hezbollah and Al Manar TV are prohibited entities that an American person can do business with under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
“This advocacy is an example of the use of the tools and techniques available by the FBI and its partners to investigate criminals who attempt to launder money through US financial institutions,” said Matthew R. Alcoke , special agent in charge of counterterrorism and incidents of the FBI’s office in Washington Division of Management. “The FBI will work with our law enforcement partners to bring international money launderers to justice and to deter those who may attempt to carry out criminal activity in the United States.”
In order to facilitate the purchase of electronic equipment in the United States, UCC-1 used various means to transfer money to Farhat, designed to conceal the origin of the money. Farhat received over $ 1 million in wire transfers from Lebanon, of which over $ 500,000 went to a third party bank account that was actually controlled by Farhat. Farhat also received nearly $ 80,000 in money orders which were purchased in a way that evaded identity reporting requirements.
Farhat received instructions from UCC-1 as to what equipment to purchase, and she lied to the vendors about the intended destination of the items, knowing (or willfully ignoring the fact) that at least some of the money came from illegal activities. Farhat also filed US tax returns for UCC-1 which contained false information and used the refunds generated for electronics purchases.
Farhat and her husband, Hussam Hawi, 46, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States in collecting income tax. Farhat and Hawi withheld Farhat’s job from the IRS, declaring her as a “stay-at-home mom” and not reporting any salaries she earned for the 2015-2019 tax years. As a result of these deliberate inaccuracies and omissions, Farhat and Hawi received a tax refund each year. They owe the IRS over $ 64,000.
The two defendants are expected to be sentenced on September 21. Farhat faces a combined maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and Hawi faces a maximum of five years in prison. The actual sentences for federal crimes are generally less than the maximum sentences. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Raj Parekh, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Matthew R. Alcoke, special agent in charge of the counterterrorism and incident management division of the FBI field office in Washington; and Darrell J. Waldon, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Washington, DC Field Office, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the plea .
Deputy US prosecutors Anthony T. Aminoff and Dennis M. Fitzpatrick are continuing the case.
A copy of this press release can be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Court documents and related information can be found on the website of the District court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by looking for cases n ° 1: 21-cr-112 and 1: 21-cr-113.