Money laundering fraudsters scammed vulnerable and elderly people out of thousands by selling them fake Picasso and Salvador Dali paintings.

Behrad Kazemi and Raj Nasta have been jailed following a six year investigation after they received millions of pounds in payments for the fake art.

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

The caller would suggest people purchase artwork as a form of investment.

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

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.

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

It was discovered that the pictures received were not fine art, the signatures were not genuine and they were in fact valued between £200 and £300.

The “complex” investigation established that the calls to the victims had begun as far back as October 2016 and more than 125 people were identified.

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

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

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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.

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.

His company Zest2Recruitement operated out of Crawley and East Grinstead.

After officers seized their phones, they found that both Kazemi and Nasta were a part of an organised crime group based overseas. The majority of the money Kazemi received was sent overseas.

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

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

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

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

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: “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.

“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.”