Men Jailed in £2.6m Fine Art Money Laundering Scam

Headline about a fine art money laundering scam over a background of used paintbrushes on a wooden surface, conveying a theme related to art and crime.

Two men who made millions from selling fake paintings to vulnerable and elderly victims have been jailed following a six-year money laundering investigation.

Behrad Kazemi and Raj Nasta were sentenced at the end of March to a combined seven years’ imprisonment for their role in selling fake art.

The investigation began in April 2018 when Sussex Police received fraud reports from several people who had been cold called by an asset management firm, who advised them to invest in artworks rather than making traditional investments.

Victims were targeted from October 2016 when they received calls from Asset Consulting Services and Treasury Asset Group which persuaded them to invest between £2,000 and £3,000 in a framed Salvador Dali painting.

The victims, the majority of whom were elderly and vulnerable, were then encouraged to expand their portfolios by making further investments of between £5,000 and £20,000 into pictures by Pablo Picasso.

However, the pictures were not genuine and were valued between £200 and £300.

Over 125 people were identified as being taken in by the scam, many of whom had lost their life savings after handing over more than £150,000.

Police began their enquiries into the operation in April 2018 when they were alerted to the operation by suspicious victims and their families who found they could no longer contact the company after receiving their artwork.

Officers from Sussex Police executed a warrant in June 2018 on Kazemi’s property in Crawley, and he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. Records showed that between October 2016 and June 2018 over £2.6 million had been received into his company bank accounts.

This money was then distributed overseas to third parties, including Nasta, who also operated his own company, Zest2Recruitement, out of Crawley and East Grinstead.

During their investigation, the police discovered that Kazemi and Nasta were part of an organised crime group based overseas.

Kazemi was found guilty of money laundering and sentenced to four years and nine months’ imprisonment. Nasta was charged with money laundering and false accounting and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Confiscation proceedings have started under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover the criminal financial gains.

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.

“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.”

DC Woodland 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.”

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