/ 26 February 2018

Two Lebanese brothers in court for Hezbollah drone export case

Hezbollah members carry mock rockets next to a poster of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah members carry mock rockets next to a poster of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Two Lebanese citizens are expected to appear at the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court on Monday for allegedly illegally exporting components of drones to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

READ MORE: SA links in US-Hezbollah illegal exporting case

Johannesburg-based businessman Usama Darwich Hamade, 53, was arrested at his Kempton Park home, while his brother Issam Hamade, 55, was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport after he arrived from abroad.

They are both in custody in Johannesburg following their arrests last week.

A third suspect, Samir Ahmed Berro, 64, who has Lebanese and British citizenship, is yet to be arrested.

They have been accused by the US of illegally exporting items to Hezbollah, which it classified as a terrorist organisation.

Last week’s press statement by the US Attorney’s office for the District of Minnesota details how Usama Hamade, also known as Prince Sam and who reportedly previously claimed to be Lebanese royalty, allegedly lied, saying digital compasses for drones were needed in SA for anti-poaching operations. But the statement said these were actually destined for Hezbollah “co-conspirators in Lebanon”.

According to a US indictment, SA was a transit point through which some of these items— including items which could be used in drones— were channelled.

The indictment, which also reveals that a person identified simply as Individual A, a South African citizen and resident, apparently unwittingly ordered components which can be used in drones and jets, some of which arrived in the country, but which were then allegedly sent to Lebanon.

According to US court documents, dollars were also said to have been transferred to South African company bank accounts for the apparent purchasing of the items.

The massive case, based on the US documents, has links to countries that include SA, Japan, Germany and Lebanon.

Investigations have been carried out by the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Commerce Office of Export Enforcement, and Homeland Security Investigations.

In SA, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, and Ekurhuleni Metro Police have been involved.

Last Tuesday, February 20, national police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo confirmed to News24 that the Hamade brothers were in custody.

Naidoo said the Hamade brothers were expected to apply for bail in the Kempton Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

“The normal extradition process will be followed,” he said, in reference to the US wanting the Hamade brothers to be extradited to stand trial in Minnesota.

Naidoo would not divulge any further information, including whether more arrests were expected in SA. —News24