Skip to main content

How one of Qatar's richest men lost $90m to a psychic

A lonely personal assistant mailed the jewellery of the country's former prime minister to a psychic. For months no one noticed
A consummate international politician, Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani became aware of the heist after his assistant confessed (AFP)

When one of the largest jewellery heists was pulled off last year, netting the robber more than $90m, you probably didn't hear about it. 

Its high profile victim probably wanted it that way. It wasn't until the British auction house Christie's in New York abruptly pulled a 13.15-carat pink diamond with an estimated value of up to $35m last December that people began to report on the robbery, almost nine months after it happened.  

Even then at most the victim was described as a wealthy resident of Doha, Qatar. 

Now for the first time, Vice News named the victim of the heist as Qatar's former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.

According to Vice, Thani paid multiple consultants and private investigators to not only keep the story largely out of the press but also track the missing loot.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


The story of a billionaire getting robbed of a tiny fraction of their wealth may not arouse much sympathy. But that's where things take a bizarre turn.

When Thani was robbed of $90m worth of jewels, there was no physical violence involved or men hanging from a ceiling dodging alarm triggers. 

In 2019 Thani's lonely personal assistant, who in court documents in the US is named only as "Magdalena", started using Purple Garden – a website for advice on all things connected to psychics, love and oracle guidance.

A year into the website she met a "master adviser" going by the name "Giovanni".

Over a period of four years Giovanni advised Magdalena on "bad auras", love readings, tarot cards and much more.

Winning her trust mainly through WhatsApp, Giovanni, who never actually met Magdalena in person, won her confidence before making a daring gambit for her boss's crown jewels in April 2022.

Magdalena, who investigators now believe was not part of the heist but simply a naive victim who fell prey to manipulation, over a period of three months sent 17 pieces of jewellery worth over $90m to Giovanni by air mail.

The documents seen by Vice, show that the jewellery was sent uninsured and a signature wasn't even required for receipt of delivery.

Thani's assistant had sent her boss's jewels to be cleansed from bad spirits - jewels that Magdalena's psychic adviser said she had infected.

'You don't need a psychic, you need a psychiatrist'

Over the years Giovanni had netted himself more than $150,000 in fees for his advice to the assistant. But as he found out more about her background and the wealthy client that employed her, investigators believe he scaled his grift for one last big job.

Getting his hands on Thani's jewellery wasn't enough for Giovanni. He upped his rates to $50,000 to cleanse the jewellery.

Initially Giovanni refused to send the jewellery back by post. Then he promised to meet her in Cannes, France at the end of August, where Magdalena would be accompanying her boss.

When he didn't show up, Thani's assistant, who had managed to sneak the jewels out of the vaults without much effort, panicked. 

Qatar criticised for not enforcing crypto ban by financial crimes watchdog
Read More »

It's when Giovanni wrote one last message to his victim that the personal assistant to one of the Middle East's more powerful and well connected political operators realised her mistake and told her employer.

"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," Giovanni wrote, according to the arrest warrant.

A low-key international manhunt began that spanned the Netherlands, the UK and the US.

It wasn't until November 22 last year that the FBI had arrested Giovanni, whose real name was John Lee, and who lived between Florida and New Jersey.

Lee was arrested after a 13.15-carat pink diamond, which had been cut down in size from its original 16 carat to mask its provenance, emerged in Christie's auction house and was recognised by an eagle-eyed diamond dealer.

The wide-ranging investigation led by the FBI also led police to investigate several diamond brokers and cutters that took a cut from Lee's unlikely heist.

The FBI have seized most of the remaining cash and jewels and are working to locate other diamonds that may have been sold or re-cut.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.