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Feds Seize 68-Carat Diamond

BROOKLYN (CN) - Federal agents seized a 68-carat "polished diamond" they say was sold in the United States for $1 million - less than one-third of its true value. The giant diamond - 50 percent larger than the Hope Diamond - was discovered in South Africa in November 2008.

Higgs Diamond Pty Ltd., operating in conjunction with Jasper Mining Pty Ltd., found the diamond, according to the federal complaint.

Dennis Van Kerrebroeck, operating through his own company, Belgo-Nevada Ltd., agreed to buy the rock from Higgs for $3.3 million, and carried it from Geneva JFK airport in September 2009, according to the complaint.

Van Kerrebroeck convinced Higgs that he would be able to pay for the stone by having a "Proof of Funds Letter" sent by "Jennifer Hunt," a purported escrow agent from American United, whom he said guaranteed purchase up to $4 million, according to the complaint.

The day the letter was sent, Van Kerrebroek flew the diamond from Geneva to New York with a Higgs representative, while an America United representative called the CEO of Higgs with a message that the escrow account was closed and the balance was withdrawn, the complaint states.

At JFK, Van Kerrebroeck deposited the diamond with Swiss Air Cargo, and told his Higgs representative companion that Customs was holding the stone due to a paperwork "discrepancy," the feds say.

The next day, Van Kerrebroeck allegedly arranged through his company to get clearance for the diamond, but prosecutors say he continued to tell Higgs representatives that it was being held by Customs.

"Although representatives of Higgs made repeated efforts to receive payment or return of the defendant diamond, Van Kerrebroeck failed to pay for the defendant diamond as contracted or return it to Higgs," according to the complaint.

About a week later, Van Kerrebroeck allegedly sold the rock to the Fifth Avenue merchant Taly Diamonds for $1 million.

Prosecutors say Nevada Attorney General investigators found in October 2009 that the "Proof of Funds" form had been forged. Nevada officials interviewed an American United representative who told them that "Jennifer Hunt" was a fictitious name signed on about 60 bogus documents, according to the complaint.

That interview led to a search warrant allowing Nevada to search the escrow agent's office, where investigators allegedly found evidence of "Forgery, Uttering Forged Instruments, Using False Statements to Obtain Property or Credit, and Mortgage Lending Fraud," the complaint states.

Federal officials seized the giant diamond from the store in March 2010.

The only defendant in the complaint is the diamond itself.

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