17 June, 2015, Brazil, USA NEWS CORP
Six people have been arrested and assets worth up to £10 million seized. Police in Brazil have uncovered a multi-million pound scheme to illegally mine and export Paraiba tourmaline, one of the world's most valuable gemstones.
A criminal organisation involving several companies and a state deputy allegedly used a complex network of offshore accounts to fund the extraction and export of the stones to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Houston and Las Vegas, federal prosecutors said.
The rare, vivid blue gemstone, was first found in the north-eastern state of Paraíba in the 1980s and can fetch up to £65,000 (US$100,000) per carat (0.2g). The stone has been used by international designer jewellers including Dior and Tiffany.
Among those targeted by the operation was João Henrique de Sousa, a state deputy in Paraíba, who is authorised to mine Paraiba tourmaline but is accused of failing to declare extractions to the national department of mineral production. Afghan businessman Zaheer Azizi, who lives in Thailand, was also named on the eight arrest warrants along with seven other mining bosses. "The result of the first intercepted conversations confirmed all previously collected information and revealed in detail the whole system adopted by the criminal organisation, proving the many crimes committed by those investigated, from the illegal extraction of the mineral to the money laundering of the resources accrued with gem sales," federal prosecutors said.
Investigators said the stones were illegally mined from São José da Batalha in Paraíba, taken to the city of Parelhas in the neighbouring state of Rio Grande do Norte where they were illegally licensed, and then sent to Minas Gerais to be polished and sold abroad. "The stones that are displayed at luxurious events forcelebrities and international tycoons, which are rented by Hollywood actresses to parade on the Oscar red carpet, should also provide the inhabitants of São José da Batalha and Salgadinho social progress, enabling better conditions of life, basic fundamental rights for the development of human beings, as proclaimed by the constitution and by international treaties," said prosecutor João Raphael Lima.
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