Two Men Sentenced to Jail After Selling Art Forgeries

April 1, 2024

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By 

Elle Yap

British courts sentenced two men to a combined seven years in prison for selling art forgeries of artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali in a money laundering scheme that targeted vulnerable groups like the elderly. 

35-year-old Behrad Kazemi received a sentence of four years and nine months’ imprisonment. Kazemi’s charges centered on money laundering. Meanwhile, his 50-year-old partner-in-crime Raj Nasta received a sentence of three years for money laundering and false accounting.

A corkboard with images on it. Photo by Cottonbro Studio. Source: Pexels.
A corkboard with images on it. Photo by Cottonbro Studio. Source: Pexels.

The two came into Sussex Police’s radar after they received reports in 2018 of fraud from victims of a company called Asset Consulting Services and Treasury Asset Group. Kazemi and Nasta reportedly cold called their victims in order to get them to invest in artwork they were selling. 

Art Forgeries Investment Scheme

Kazemi and Nasta claimed to sell ‘fine art’ to the victims they cold called. They attempted to sell them an investment with a framed Salvador Dali picture priced between £2,000 to £3,000 ($2,525 to $3,789). Later on, they would try to upsell their victims to invest in a framed Pablo Picasso picture for prices between £5,000 to £20,000 ($6,315 to $25,260).

Salvador Dali with a cat. Photo by Roger Higgins. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Salvador Dali with a cat. Photo by Roger Higgins. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The art itself were later identified as forgeries. This also includes the certificates and signatures claiming their authenticity. Their value was pegged at around £200 to £300 ($253 to $379) each. 

A picture of Pablo Picasso. Photo from Argentina. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A picture of Pablo Picasso. Photo from Argentina. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“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,” Sussex Police Detective Constable Annette Woodland said.

After sending the money for the framed pictures, many of the victims would be unable to contact the company afterwards. Some victims reportedly lost upwards of £150,000 (approx. $189,000) to the scheme. 

“Some of our victims lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, they have felt angry, embarrassed and also ashamed about being drawn into this scam [this] sophisticated,” Detective Woodland said. 

Sussex Police identified over 125 victims of the scheme. Some victims scammed came from as far back as October 2016. 

As the investigation continued, they discovered that the company accumulated over £2.6 million (approx. $3.2 million). Kazemi and Nasta sent the majority of this money overseas. They allegedly sent the money to organized crime groups abroad, which they had strong ties to.  

Police later discovered mulitple companies set up by Kazemi in order to launder the money. One of these companies, Zest2Recruitement, operated out of Kazemi’s hometown of Crawley.

A man getting arrested. Photo by Kindel Media. Source: Pexels.
Police arresting a man. Photo by Kindel Media. Source: Pexels.

“With Nasta’s guidance, Kazemi was receiving the money from the fraud victims and laundering it for the [organized] crime group,” the detective said. “This activity was a crucial part of the crime. Without Kazemi setting up the companies, receiving the monies and transferring it to others, the [organized] crime group would have been unable to access the proceeds of their fraudulent activities.”

British courts scheduled a hearing in the future for the compensation of the victims using assets recovered from the company.

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