Tonight, Johnny Zabaneh is called a Kingpin no more - the US Treasury Department has lifted that designation from his name.
This is five years after they pretty much ended life, and business as usual for Zabaneh.
The Kingpin Designation served a deathblow to his entire Mayan King agro - enterprise - which at the time was the biggest banana producer in Belize. The US Office of Foreign Assets Control spoke about a "John Zabaneh Drug Trafficking Organization" and called him and his alleged associates, "Sinaloa Cartel Operatives in Belize." His alleged associated included his nephew Dion Zabaneh and Corozal's Daniel Moreno.
Zabaneh denied it as energetically as he could, and he did so everywhere he could, but the stigma was too great: no one: no bank, no supplier, no service provider would do business with a man bearing the Kingpin designation.
Well, today, without even an apology, the US Treasury Department has lifted the designation. They say, quote, "This letter informs you that effective as of the date of this letter, you and your companies are no longer designated as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. Accordingly, all property and interests in property which had been blocked solely due to your or your companies designationâ€¦are unblocked and you and your companies are permitted to engage in any lawful transactions involving US persons."
Easy as that. But, in truth, not easy at all - nowhere near easy! Zabaneh and his family's lives - as well as some of his business associates - were thrown into complete upheaval by the designation - and that's just on the personal level. At the business level, the banana industry lost its biggest producing farm, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs when Mayan King Enterprise, was forced to close after Fyffes had to cut ties with the farm.
And now five years later, like a magic wand to undo a costly curse, the US Treasury Department says it's over. Via text today, Zabaneh said, quote, "I'm sort of speechless and don't know weather to cry or laugh after so much suffering and loss."
He did put out an official press release, saying, quote, "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 out, 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." End quote.
Zabaneh has said he may have a press conference sometime down the road.
Now, there are still questions. First, what about the other two men designated with him: Dion Zabaneh and Daniel Moreno? Well, OFAC today posted on their website that both Johnny Zabaneh and Dion Zabaneh and their companies have been removed from the Kingpin designation. Very notably, Daniel Moreno remains designated.
Second, what led to this complete turnaround? Is the removal the product of Zabaneh's endless denials? He did tell us in 2015 that he would have meetings with the US authorities. Here's how he put it then:
FILE: October 1, 2015
John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"So I am dealing with it directly and personally. I'm in connection and I am saying this to the world. Every will be hearing what I am saying. I am dealing and communicating directly with Washington and OFAC. And I as I am sitting here answering your questions, if I had any connection with Chapo Guzman or any of his kind, hearing this I would be in deep ____. I can only tell you I'm in communication with Washington and I am hoping that someday soon I will get and invitation from them for an interview. To sit in front of an investigative team. They have indicated to me that I will hear from them soon concerning the personal meeting."
We don't know what came out of those meetings - and if they had any effect on today's announcement, but Zabaneh has been low key since then working his efforts in the background.