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US charges alleged Hezbollah financier with evading sanctions through art and diamonds

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(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Tuesday charged a Hezbollah financier and eight others with evading sanctions and laundering almost $160 million, in some cases through artwork and diamonds.

Prosecutors alleged that Nazem Ahmad continued to acquire high-level artwork and diamonds through U.S. entities and provided access to international financial markets to a terrorist organization.

Ahmad was also an associate of high-level members of Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terrorist group that was designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist, the Justice Department said.

He was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2019, barring him from doing any business in the United States.

At a news conference on Tuesday, senior leaders from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Treasury and State made clear they want him captured, even offering a $10 million reward for his capture.

“Ahmad and his network used a complex web of unlawful business entities to buy valuable artwork and secure U.S. based diamond grading service all while hiding their involvement in and benefit from these activities to the tune of approximately $160 million, while also providing the terrorist organization Hizballah access to U.S. and international financial markets,” Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John Tien told reporters.

Court documents allege that Ahmad used a U.S.-based diamond-grading service to affect the sales price of certain diamonds he would allegedly give to have serviced. He also obtained artwork after he was sanctioned in 2019 valued at more than $450,000, prosecutors said, while an additional $780,000 in artwork from U.S. persons located outside the United States was also acquired in violation of terrorism sanctions.

“The defendants and other conspirators engaged in this scheme to benefit Ahmad and themselves while at the same time evading terrorism-related sanctions, to avoid the payment of taxes to foreign governments on the import of valuable goods into foreign countries, and to make it more difficult for the United States government to carry out its lawful functions,” a press release from the Justice Department said.

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