Sussex men jailed following complex fine art money laundering investigation

Two Sussex men have been jailed following a complex, six-year money laundering investigation, Sussex Police have reported.
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Police said Behrad Kazemi and Raj Nasta have have been sentenced for a combined seven years’ imprisonment after they received millions of pounds worth of payments for fake art.

In April 2018, Sussex Police received fraud reports from a number of victims who had been cold called by a company called Asset Consulting Services and Treasury Asset Group.

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Police said the caller would suggest to their victims to purchase artwork, as opposed to traditional investments.

Behrad Kazemi (left) and Raj Nasta. Picture courtesy of Sussex PoliceBehrad Kazemi (left) and Raj Nasta. Picture courtesy of Sussex Police
Behrad Kazemi (left) and Raj Nasta. Picture courtesy of Sussex Police

Sussex Police said their victims, the majority of whom were vulnerable and elderly, paid between £2,000 to £3,000 for a framed Dali picture.

Police said they were then encouraged to develop their portfolio and invest further monies into pictures by Pablo Picasso. The cost of the pictures ranged from £5,000 to £20,000 each, Sussex Police added.

Police said victims, and their families, then became suspicious when they could no longer contact the company.

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It was discovered that the pictures were not ‘fine art’, the signatures were not genuine and were in fact valued between £200 and £300, Sussex Police added.

Police said the investigation established that the calls to the victims had begun as far back as October 2016 and over 125 people were identified.

Sussex Police said some of these victims had lost their life savings and had paid over £150,000. It was found that a number of victims did not know they had been victims until they were contacted by police, police added.

Officers executed a warrant in June 2018 on Kazemi’s property in Crawley and Sussex Police said he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering.

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Police said examination of his company and banking records showed that between October 2016 and June 2018 over £2.6 million had been received into the company bank accounts.

Sussex Police said the companies and the bank accounts were set up purely to process the money from the fraud victims and to disseminate it overseas and to third parties, one of these being Nasta.

Police said his company Zest2Recruitement operated out of Crawley and East Grinstead.

After officers seized their phones, Sussex Police said it was clear that both Kazemi and Nasta were a part of an organised crime group based in Morocco. The majority of the money Kazemi received was sent overseas, police added.

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Sussex Police said Kazemi was later charged with money laundering and Nasta was charged with money laundering and false accounting.

On March 13 at Lewes Crown Court, police said Kazemi, 35, of Barnfield Road, Crawley, was sentenced to four years and nine months’ imprisonment.

Sussex Police said Nasta, 50, of McIndoe Road, East Grinstead, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Police said Confiscation proceedings have commenced under the Proceeds of Crime Act to look at recovering the criminal financial gains.

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Sussex Police said a hearing is due to take place and compensation will be paid to the victims from identified available assets.

Detective Constable Annette Woodland, of Sussex Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “This was a complex and thorough investigation which took lots of hard work across multiple teams. It was extremely distressing for the victims involved who have had to face years of emotional turmoil while it was carried out.

“Some of our victims lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, they have felt angry, embarrassed and also ashamed about being drawn into this scam which sophisticated.

“Anyone could be affected by a similar type of crime. The fraudsters are manipulative, they will be chatty and friendly, and will encourage conversations about family, hobbies and holidays to gain your trust. It is despicable.”

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She added: “With Nasta’s guidance, Kazemi was receiving the money from the fraud victims and laundering it for the organised crime group.

“This activity was a crucial part of the crime. Without Kazemi setting up the companies, receiving the monies and transferring it to others, the organised crime group would have been unable to access the proceeds of their fraudulent activities.

“The investigation and convictions have meant that the fraudsters activities were disrupted, victims have been protected and Kazemi and Nasta have been brought to justice for their key involvement.”

Don’t be rushed into making an investment. Legitimate organisations will not cold call you and will never pressure you into paying money.

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Before making significant financial decisions, speak with trusted friends or family members, or seek professional independent advice.

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