Is Iran Behind the Murder of a Paraguayan Prosecutor?

On May 10, Marcelo Pecci—a Paraguayan criminal prosecutor thought to be on his way to becoming his country’s next attorney general—was shot, evidently by skilled assassins, while honeymooning with his wife in Colombia. In a country where corruption is endemic, Pecci had been incorruptible, and was dedicated to investigating organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and terrorism finance—areas that are closely intertwined in his country. Emanuele Ottolenghi puts his life’s work, and his death, in context:

In recent years, Paraguay has become a key transit hub for increasingly larger quantities of cocaine. Foreign crime syndicates have moved in, both to work with and to compete against local networks. . . . Pecci disrupted operations of transnational criminal organizations operating inside his country, which include Latin American, European, Asian, and Middle Eastern crime syndicates.

Where there is organized crime there is money laundering, and for decades, Hizballah has been a key financial-service provider to crime syndicates across Latin America. It operates in multiple locations, with Colombia being a historic hub of cooperation with organized crime. But its facilitators also operate along all of Paraguay’s frontiers.

Hizballah and Iranian agents have been in Colombia for years. Iran’s influence networks have an established presence not only in Bogotá, but also in other parts of the country, where they recruit and radicalize locals through Iranian-controlled mosques and cultural centers. Their influence operation is run by a proxy of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S.-sanctioned Al Mustafa International University. Hizballah has also been there for a long time, leveraging local Lebanese Shiite expatriates to launder money on behalf of drug cartels. Their proceeds help Hizballah self-fund over and above Iranian direct contributions. The combination of Iranian and Hizballah networks creates a perfect environment to plan and carry out an attack.

Last year, Iran already tried to carry out an assassination in Colombia against an Israeli citizen by contracting locals. That they failed says nothing about Iran and Hizballah’s capabilities to assassinate a man like Marcelo Pecci.

Of course, Ottolenghi observes, there were many criminal organizations that wanted to see Pecci dead. But Hizballah had both means and motive.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Drugs, Hizballah, Iran, Latin America

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia