John Zabaneh no longer considered a drug kingpin Print E-mail
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Thursday, 24 August 2017 00:00

After 5 years of suffering, Stann Creek businessman John Zabaneh is no longer considered a drug kingpin by the US State Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The sanction has been lifted, and he can resume conducting business relationships as per normal. His family owned businesses have had great misfortunes, however, where millions of dollars have been lost because of the designation.

Back in August 2012, when OFAC first sanctioned him, and his companies with the designation, those business interests took a nose dive. He and his businesses, Mid-South Investments Limited, Mayan King Limited, Crown Paradise Enterprise Limited, and Belize Chemicals Limited, were effectively isolated. No business entities, no service provider, and no financial institutions were willing to conduct business with someone designated a “kingpin”. Zabaneh complained as loudly as he could, insisted that he was not a narco-trafficker, but it was to no avail. He even pointed out that this designation prevented not only US companies from doing business with him, but Belizean companies were also giving him a wide berth, rather unfairly.

It was an effective punishment for a crime not yet proven, and as readers are aware, he began fighting to get his reputation restored. Just last month, he filed a lawsuit in the US Court to force OFAC to withdraw the designation.

That withdrawal came on Tuesday, August 22, in a letter that offers no apology for the distress this US Department’s Office caused Zabaneh.

The letter reads, “Dear Mr. Zabaneh… You and your companies, Mid-South Investments Limited, Mayan King Limited, Crown Paradise Enterprise Limited and Belize Chemicals Limited… are no longer designated as…Narcotics Traffickers… You and your companies are permitted to engage in any lawful transactions involving U.S. persons.”

So, just like that, Zabaneh is no longer considered a drug kingpin, and he must rebuild his business empire as a very successful banana farmer.

Immediately after the arrival of this letter, he released a statement which says, “From his designation over five long years ago, Mr. Zabaneh has strongly and adamantly professed and maintained his innocence to no avail. As time passed, the impact on Mr. Zabaneh and his family has been severe as Mr. Zabaneh has suffered heavy losses, not only financial and reputational, but also serious emotional distress as they have been abandoned, even shunned, by many friends, financial institutions and business associates. Fyffes’ actions, in particular, led to the complete shutdown of the entire banana farming operations linked to John Zabaneh and his family on the basis of mere media reports concerning his designation, causing losses of hundreds of jobs. As Mr. Zabaneh’s innocence has finally proven… he and his family are hopeful that the business community and the government will now support their efforts to restart and restore those businesses that brought meaningful benefit to so many workers and their families in the South.”

The Fyffe’s embargo was a particularly tough blow to recover from. In October of 2015, Fyffes cut off all business relations with Zabaneh’s family company, Mayan King Banana Farms. That happened  after press reports emerged of the struggles that the management company, Meridian, which was keeping the doors open, and paying their staff. At the mere suggestion that Fyffes had a somewhat near proximity to Zabaneh, the multinational fruit packaging giant pressed the eject button and stopped buying bananas produced by the Mayan King Farms. That brought production to a grinding halt, and nearly a thousand employees were laid off.

There are no indications from Zabaneh if he may be considering legal options for the massive losses that he and his family suffered as a result of the kingpin designation from OFAC.