Embezzlement scandal rocks Israel's diamond exchange

A trader inspects a diamond during a show at the trading floor of Israel's Diamond Exchange (IDE) in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, Israel © Nir Elias
Israeli police arrested a diamond dealer on Wednesday suspected of taking part in a $65 million fraud at the country’s diamond exchange. Some of his family members may also be involved in the embezzlement.

The suspect was identified as a well-known Israeli dealer Hanan Abramovich and head of Hanan Abramovich Diamonds.

"The suspect is under arrest and we are currently questioning him on suspicion of embezzlement," said a police spokeswoman as cited by Reuters.

The investigation was started after a number of dealers from the Israel Diamond Exchange (IDE) complained the Abramovich firm owed them "tens of millions of dollars" for gems it purchased but never paid for.

Abramovich allegedly had taken gems worth $60-65 million from 12 leading diamond dealers without paying for them or giving them back. There is concern that some of the dealers will be forced into bankruptcy, media reported.

Abramovich’s lawyer denied his client’s connection to illegal activities and insisted the dealer’s business had simply failed.

“We are talking about a huge deception by a man who planned it a long time in advance,” the managing director of the Israel Diamond Exchange Eli Avidar told The Times of Israel newspaper. “He took advantage of the ethical code of the exchange members.”

Diamond dealers work on the trading floor of Israel's diamond exchange in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv  © Nir Elias

According to Avidar, it’s the first time in the history of the exchange there was embezzlement on such a scale. “You can’t make a phenomenal sum of tens of millions of dollars disappear without leaving a trace. We are sure the man hid diamonds and cash, and the police will find them quickly and easily.”

Avidar explained becoming a member of the exchange is a rigorous process which requires candidates to work in the diamond business for eight years and pass several lie detector tests as well as background checks to ensure there is no history of wrongdoing. “Whoever doesn’t pass the polygraph can’t be accepted as a member of the exchange.”

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Established in the late 1960s, the Israeli Diamond Exchange is now the largest diamond trading center in the world. It houses approximately 1,050 diamond companies and accounts for the import of $5 billion in rough diamonds annually which is about 40 percent of global rough diamond production.

Exports of Israel's polished diamonds fell by 20 percent in 2015 due to weaker demand in Europe, Hong Kong and the United States.