- A 13.15-carat diamond was abruptly pulled from Christie’s 6 December Magnificent Jewels auction.
- A US federal agent alleged the diamond was stolen and part of a R1.6 billion jewellery heist.
- The jewellery was shipped to a Florida man claiming to be a psychic, according to court documents.
- For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
A R1.6 billion jewellery heist traced back to a man who claimed to be a psychic and convinced his victim to send 17 precious gems and watches, promising to give them a spiritual cleanse, a criminal complaint filed by a US federal agent alleged.
The high stakes theft, first reported by Court Watch, included a 13.15-carat pink diamond that was going to be on sale at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction event on December 6. The item, billed the “Fancy Vivid Pink Diamond Ring,” was expected by the auction house to be sold for as much as R600 million.
But the gem was abruptly pulled from the auction without explanation, according to Rapaport, a jewellery trade publication.
“We can confirm that we cooperated with the authorities, but Christie’s does not comment on ongoing investigations to which we are not a party,” a representative from Christie’s told Insider.
Behind the scenes, a plot worthy of a blockbuster heist movie had already taken place. A criminal complaint filed on November 21 alleged that the jewellery theft occurred between June and August 2022, after an employee of a wealthy Doha, Qatar, resident was seeking a psychic for “relationship and love advice” around four years ago.
The employee, identified as Victim 1 in the complaint, eventually connected with someone online around April 2019 with the username, “1111Giovanni1111.” The employee believed the individual was a “psychic and a love specialist,” the court document states.
An investigation by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force later connected the username to a man with a Florida driver’s license named John Lee.
Over the course of the next few years, the victim frequently paid for Lee’s services. The working relationship intensified when, around June 2022, Lee directed the employee to send him some personal jewellery to his Florida address “to be cleansed.”
“Victim 1 sent the jewellery to him in the hope that he could cleanse the jewellery of bad spirits,” the court record stated. After conducting the “spiritual actions” he promised, Lee mailed back the jewellery, per the record.
But the employee still complained of “negative feelings,” even after the cleansing, the agent wrote. So Lee convinced his client to send even more jewellery — this time, belonging to the employee’s boss, a wealthy Doha, Qatar, resident.
The employee removed jewellery from the employer’s safe and sent them to Florida and New Jersey addresses. Lee told his client that the jewellery would not be returned until August 2022, the complaint alleged.
However, a few days before the set date of return, Lee told the client that the jewellery would be seized by customs if it was mailed back. The self-proclaimed psychic then instructed his client to meet him in Cannes, France, to personally retrieve the items, but never showed up, the court documents stated.
The employee made repeated attempts to reach Lee. On August 23, 2022, Lee responded, “Please stop I do not know what you were talking about I don’t think you need a psychic you need a psychiatrist God bless you please stop harassing me.”
At 17 pieces, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and watches, went missing from the employer’s safe. According to the complaint the jewellery altogether had an estimated value of some R1.6 billion. He went on to pawn off the jewellery for a fraction of its value.
One of the items federal agents alleged that Lee acquired included a pink emerald-cut diamond. He sold the R540 million diamond to a watch broker in exchange for just R140 million in watches and loose diamonds, the feds alleged in the criminal complaint.
A November 14 press release from Christie’s stated that a “private collector” approached the auction house to place the pink diamond on sale.
However, an unnamed witness recognised the description of the item and knew the owner, allowing agents to take possession of the gem before it was put up for auction, the criminal complaint said.
Lee was arrested in New Jersey on November 22 and charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, and interstate transportation of stolen goods.