Feds: Alleged terrorist moves art through JFK


Nine people, including an alleged financier for the terrorist group Hezbollah and members of his family, have been charged with making more than $400 million worth of prohibited transactions using contemporary American artwork and diamonds between December 2019 and August 2022 — sometimes via JFK Airport — to financially support the organization, according to a nine-count indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Nazem Ahmad, along with son Firas Michael Ahmad, daughter Hind Nazem Ahmad and brother-in-law Rami Yaacoub Baker, as well as associates Mohamad Hijazi, Mohamad Hassan Ismail, Sarya Nemat Martin, Ali Said Mossalem and Sundar Nagarajan, are alleged to have offloaded $6 million of the proceeds from diamond smuggling and from a high-value artwork collection to Lebanon for the criminal scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York.

The USAO said that as of April 17, Nagarajan was arrested in England and is remanded until April 25. The Department of Justice Office of International Affairs is assisting with extradition and Ahmad and other suspects are said to be outside the U.S. and remain at large.

The DOJ said that the nine suspects are wanted for conspiring to defraud the U.S. and foreign governments, for evading U.S. sanctions and customs laws, and for conducting money laundering.

The government managed to obtain seizure warrants for millions in assets that include a diamond ring, cash and artwork.

An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security was able to determine that Ahmad, a real estate developer, was allegedly a high-ranking member of Hezballah, a Lebanon-based terrorist organization that the U.S. issued sanctions against. Through the international procurement and sale of $160 million worth of art from U.S. artists and galleries and by securing U.S.-based diamond grading services for 1,546 carats of diamonds, the suspect and his co-conspirators were able to import $207 million worth of goods and export $234 million of additional goods. At least $160 million of those transactions were made via the U.S. financial systems.

In 2021, Nazem Ahmad and two other co-conspirators allegedly used JFK Airport from February to November of that year to move six paintings valued at $199,800 of a New York-based artist to a Lebanonese business entity used by the suspect. One photo was of a painting later hung in his home.

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace of the Eastern District of New York said his office will prosecute individuals who evade U.S. sanctions and offer a “lifeline” to foreign terrorist organizations.

“The United States implemented terrorism sanctions so that terrorist organizations like Hezballah would be cut off from the goods and services needed to fund violent acts of terrorism,” Peace said in a statement.

If convicted, the suspects would have to forfeit 450 diamonds and 100 pieces of artwork that was seized in the United States and face 115 years total in prison .

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