Paintings by collector Nazem Ahmad seized by police

London police seized twenty-three works of art belonging to Lebanese-Belgian art collector Nazem Ahmad, during an intervention in a warehouse of the Williams & Hill company in Feltham. Nine other paintings were simultaneously recovered by British authorities as they were intended to be sold at auction by Phillips. Nazem Ahmad has been accused for several years of using the art market to launder money for the benefit of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite party considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

Nazem Ahmad is said to have acquired these works of art through American front companies, and then resold them on the market. British authorities believe that the funds generated were probably intended to finance crime or terrorism. In 2023, they then banned artists, galleries and auction houses from trading with Nazem Ahmad and his six companies, including the Artual gallery in Beirut run by his daughter. However, with the exception of the Phillips auction house, which had provided an exhaustive list of the goods belonging to Nazem Ahmad that it held, the other dealers had not informed the police of the contracts binding them to the collector.

According to The Nationalthe seized works include linocut Still life with watermelon by Picasso (1962) and several works by Andy Warhol, including Leonardo da Vinci, The Annunciation, 1473 from his series “Details of Renaissance Paintings”. Table Sing all day by Stanley Whitney, made in 2019 and sold for £225,000 (€263,000), and divine wind by Iranian artist Ali Banisadr (2012), worth £175,000 (€205,000) are also among them. The total amount of works seized is estimated at 1 million pounds sterling (1.2 million euros).

The seizure was revealed in a statement from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) warning of illegal activities by criminals who hide assets in storage facilities, which increase in value over time and can be liquidated when they want. “Millions of works of art are currently stored in specialized storage and have not left these facilities for decades” explains the NCA.

Nazem Ahmad, who is currently said to be residing in Lebanon, has not commented on the situation. In April 2023, he was the subject of an investigation by the US Attorney’s Office, which revealed that he had been involved since 2019 in the import and export of works of art and diamonds, whose value is estimated at around 440 million dollars (407 million euros). Nazem Ahmad is also suspected of being involved in the trafficking of “blood diamonds” in Africa for the benefit of rebel groups.

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