Monday, October 22, 2012

Alleged Hezbollah sympathizer was on his way to Beirut when arrested in Mérida, Mexico, U.S. claim

Mérida, Yucatán -
An alleged supporter of the radical Arab organization Hezbollah arrested here on Sept. 8 was on his way to Beirut, Lebanon, traveling under an assumed name and with a fake Belize passport.

The accusations were filed this morning against Rafic Labboun in federal court in San Jose, California. Labboun holds joint U.S.-Lebanese citizenship.

Hezbollah, founded in Lebanon in 1982, is classified by the United States government as an international terrorist organization. Mérida has a heavy presence of Lebanese-origen residents or their descendants. Many are successful business persons, and respected members of the community.

Labboun was convicted in 2010 of federal bank fraud charges, in what amounted to little more than a garden variety check kiting scheme. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison. Labboun was paroled in June after serving about 24 months, and ordered to report to a Bay Area halfway house. When he failed to do so an arrest warrant was issued for him in late July. Six weeks later Mexican authorities picked him up in Mérida, where, according to a Spanish press source, Labboun owned a restaurant. He was deported to the United States within hours of his detention.

It is unclear when, or from where, Labboun entered Mexico. If he traveled first to Belize, the most likely route would have been overland to Quintana Roo state, and then on to neighboring Yucatán. Belize is about six hours from Mérida.

Labboun's federal criminal trial in 2010 had nothing to do with allegations of support for Hezbollah. None of the court documents in that case examined by MGRR make reference to the organization or Labboun's alleged sympathies for Arab terrorism. Nor has he ever been charged with terrorist related activities in the U.S. Nonetheless, many press sources worldwide connected him to the radical group when he was arrested last month. A local website called Labboun a "presumed Hezbollah terrorist."

A former attorney for Labboun, who is 44, told MGRR on Sept. 12, "He is from a part of Beirut which has seen a lot of fighting and misery. His brother was killed in the fighting."

The events in the bank fraud case occurred a decade ago, in 2002. More details and key documents are here: Case of alleged Hezbollah loyalist arrested in Yucatán leaves many questions unanswered

In today's filing with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, at San Jose, a federal parole officer wrote (page 3 in document below):

"The offender is in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1543 - Forgery or False Use of a Passport, a Class C felony. Mr. Labboun was arrested in Mérida, Mexico, on September 9, 2012, and was in possession of the Belize birth certificate of one Wilhelm Dyck. Mr. Labboun also had a Belize driver's license in the name of Wilhelm Dyck and a Belize passport in the name of Wilhelm Dyck. Mr. Labboun's photograph was on the driver's license and passport. Mr. Wilhelm Dyck of Belize is deceased. Mr. Labboun was also in possession of a flight itinerary for travel in the name of Wilhelm Dyck for that same day, and was arrested while attempting to leave Mexico for Beirut, Lebanon."

Rafic Labboun is facing a federal parole violation complaint for failing to report to the halfway house last summer. The court docket indicates that he's not seriously contesting that charge, which may be disposed of anytime. Since he's already served 24 of the 27 months imposed, Labboun's exposure is minimal. But with today's allegations of passport fraud federal prosecutor's could charge him anew, and add more time to the token amount he's facing. Beyond the assertion that Labboun was Beirut bound, however, the government still has not claimed that he was acting in the service of Hezbollah.

Sept. 10 - Arab-American citizen with alleged terrorist ties arrested in Mérida

Another case of passport fraud: Guzmán women head north to deliver - kids, not drugs
Rafic Labboun Passport Fraud


  1. The alleged crime, the passport forgery, did not take place under US jurisdiction. The only thing the US can do revoke his probation for failing to show up.

  2. Exaclty the same thought occurred to me when I read the Probation Officer's Complaint above. Here's the meat of the statute (18 U.S.C. § 1543):

    "Whoever falsely makes, forges, counterfeits, mutilates, or alters any passport or instrument purporting to be a passport, with intent that the same may be used; or

    Whoever willfully and knowingly uses, or attempts to use, or furnishes to another for use any such false, forged, counterfeited, mutilated, or altered passport or instrument purporting to be a passport, or any passport validly issued which has become void by the occurrence of any condition therein prescribed invalidating the same—

    Shall be imprisoned not more than . . ."

    The statute then goes on to give a range of prison time, from 10 to 25 years, depending upon the underlying facts and circumstances.

    I can only conclude from all of the above that the government must have evidence that Labboun acquired, ordered or made the fraudulent Belize passport while he was still on U.S. soil. Otherwise, as you say, it would appear that federal jurisdiction is lacking.

    Note, by the way, that the statute applies to instruments issued or purportedly issued by foreign governments, as well as by the United States. United States v. Dangdee, 616 F.2d 1118 (9th Cir. 1980).

    Thanks for reading MGRR and for writing.