An almost $100 million worth of jewellery in need of an “aura cleanse” and a ‘naive’ personal assistant dragged a high-profile Qatari political figure to the centre of a heist.
A damning report claimed Qatar’s former prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani was entangled in one of the most significant jewellery heists to occur last year, losing some $90 million in the burglary.
According to Vice, the news went largely unnoticed until the sudden withdrawal of a 13.15-carat pink diamond worth an estimated $35 million by the British auction house Christie’s in New York in December.
Previous media reports pointed to a wealthy resident of Qatar being the victim of the burglary, however Vice News recently publicised the identity of the former Qatari official.
HBJ, who found himself in the middle of a heist, allegedly employed multiple consultants and private investigators to both minimise media coverage of the incident and track the stolen jewels, according to Vice.
While the theft of a billionaire’s wealth may not elicit much sympathy, the circumstances surrounding the robbery took a rather peculiar shift.
In 2019, HBJ’s personal assistant, referred to as “Magdalena” in United States court documents, began seeking advice on various matters, including psychics, love, and oracle guidance, through an online platform called Purple Garden.
Almost a year later, Magdalena encountered a “master adviser” named “Giovanni” on the website. Over the course of four years, Giovanni provided Magdalena with advice on topics such as “bad auras,” love readings, and tarot cards, reports detailed.
Establishing trust primarily through WhatsApp conversations without ever meeting in person, Giovanni eventually devised a daring plan in April last year to obtain jewels belonging to Magdalena’s employer.
Magdalena, who investigators now believe was a ‘naive’ victim rather than an accomplice in the heist, sent 17 jewellery pieces worth over $90 million to Giovanni via air mail over a three-month period.
The jewellery was sent without insurance, and no signature was required upon delivery. Magdalena believed she was sending the jewels for a spiritual cleansing.
Throughout their interactions, Giovanni had accumulated over $150,000 in fees for his advice to the assistant. However, as he learned more about her background and her wealthy employer, investigators suspect that Giovanni escalated his scheme for one final significant operation.
Cleansing the jewellery now required a fee of $50,000, Vice noted.
Initially, Giovanni refused to return the jewellery by mail, later promising to meet Magdalena in Cannes, France, at the end of August, coinciding with her boss’s visit.
However, when Giovanni failed to appear, Magdalena, who had easily removed the jewels from the vaults, grew anxious and promptly informed her boss, the personal assistant to one of the Middle East’s influential political figures, after she receieved one final message from Giovanni.
The FBI later obtained access to the exchanged messages. When Magdalena inquired about Lee’s absence in Cannes, Giovanni abruptly heightened the deceptions and boldly resumed to say: “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.”
An international manhunt ensued in discreet, spanning the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the US.
Finally, on 22 November 2022, the FBI arrested Giovanni, whose real name was revealed to be John Lee, after individuals implicated in the sales began to cooperate with authorities.
Lee, who resided in both Davenport, Florida, and Paramus, New Jersey, was arrested on charges of mail and wire fraud, as well as the interstate transportation of stolen goods.
Lee was arrested after a 13.15-carat pink diamond, which had been reduced from its original 16-carat size to conceal its origins, appeared at Christie’s auction house and was identified by a vigilant diamond dealer.
The extensive FBI investigation also led to the scrutiny of several diamond brokers and cutters who had profited from Lee’s exploitative heist.
Most of the remaining cash and jewels have been seized by the FBI, while efforts are underway to locate other potentially sold or re-cut diamonds.
The potential criminal charges against Magdalena in Doha remain uncertain. However, individuals connected to the case have indicated that, despite initial concerns, there is no suggestion that she acted as an accomplice to Lee.