Diamonds / Industry

Diamond Dealer, Associates Charged With Violating U.S. Sanctions


Diamond dealer Nazem Said Ahmad (pictured) and eight purported associates have been charged with evading U.S. sanctions, with prosecutors alleging that companies linked to the suspected terrorist financier submitted more than $90 million worth of diamonds to a U.S. grading lab.

In an indictment unsealed in New York federal court April 18, Ahmad, his son, his daughter, his brother-in-law, and five others were hit with nine felony counts, including diamond smuggling, money laundering, and wire fraud.

The U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had put Ahmad on its list of specially designated nationals (SDN) in 2019 due to his alleged support of militant group Hezbollah. An SDN is prohibited from doing business with U.S. entities.

According to the new complaint, in the years following Ahmad’s sanctioning, associated companies sent 482 diamonds, collectively worth over $91 million, to a U.S. entity dubbed Diamond Grading Company 1. The diamonds originated from several businesses that prosecutors linked to Ahmad: Mega Gems Pty Ltd. and Hall of Diamonds CC, both based in Johannesburg, and Golden Yellow Diamonds DMCC, based in Dubai.

Prosecutors charged that Ahmad and associates set up a “complex web of companies” to disguise his involvement. As a U.S.-based business, Diamond Grading Company 1 would be barred from engaging in transactions with sanctioned individuals.

The indictment was unsealed the same day that OFAC added 52 names to the SDN list due to their purported connections with Ahmad. They include several diamond-related individuals and companies, and are listed here.

Ahmad is also accused of evading sanctions by buying paintings from a Chicago art gallery and a New York City artist. The defendants undervalued the paintings on U.S. Customs forms, prosecutors alleged.

The same day the indictment was announced, one defendant, Sundar Nagarajan, was taken into U.K. custody to begin extradition proceedings, according to a police statement. The U.K. government has also frozen Ahmad’s assets.

Ahmad—who is based in Lebanon but holds both Lebanese and Belgian passports—maintains a “lively presence on Instagram,” according to The New York Times, regularly posting photos of his art collection, which includes works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.

Ahmad’s daughter Hind, who was among those charged, told the Times she and her father are innocent. Hind, who owns two art galleries, called the charges “absurd” and said her father had been found not guilty in a Belgian court.

An email to Hall of Diamonds was returned as undeliverable. Mega Gems and Golden Yellow Diamonds didn’t respond to requests for comment.

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department)

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By: Rob Bates

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