Gemstone appraisal scam whistleblower facing criminal defamation charges in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand – May 28, 2023: Jeffery Bergman, an American gemstone dealer and gemologist based in Bangkok, Thailand, is facing criminal defamation charges – filed by Miguel Zenetos, a Brazilian gemologist – in Thailand for publicly disclosing low-grade rough gemstone appraisal scams. Bergman has a decades-long reputation as a whistleblower exposing misrepresentation in the gem trade.

The criminal defamation charges against Bergman fall under Articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code. If convicted, he faces up to four years and six years imprisonment, respectively, and fines of up to 400,000THB (approximately US$13,000) and 600,000THB (approximately US$19,000), respectively. “This is a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation)

case. It is an attempt to silence a whistleblower like Mr. Bergman. We will demonstrate to the court that what Mr. Bergman published was true and in the public’s interest,” Sanya Iadjongdee, one of Bergman’s attorneys, stated.

During the past two years, Bergman has received over a dozen inquiries from potential investors questioning rough gemstone appraisals issued by Zenetos, a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) graduate. Zenetos has a well-documented track record of appraising very low-grade rough gemstones for as much as 10,000 times their real-market value. Most notable are ruby-in-zoisite specimens available by the ton from Longido, Tanzania, for a mere US$300 per kilogram, which Zenetos typically appraised for over US$30 million per kg. The most absurd appraisal Bergman received was a 252-kilogram opaque “ruby” Zenetos appraised at US$3.8 Billion, or more than the cost of a modern US Navy nuclear submarine!

The fraudulent appraisal report of this 8.40-kilo rough stone, crafted by Miguel Zenetos, defines his gemological accreditation as “Director GIA Graduated Gemologist - USA.” The correct title would be “GIA Graduate Gemologist." In addition, Zenetos copied and pasted the number of the GIA identification report (see below) into his own document.

Bergman commented: “Opaque means that no light can pass through the gemstone. Opaque ruby has virtually no value as a gemstone. Yet Zenetos appraised this big, ugly 252-kilogram lump of rough stone at more than US$3,000 per carat or US$15,000 per gram.”

By exposing Zenetos’ absurd appraisals on LinkedIn, Facebook, and in magazine and newspaper articles, Bergman aimed to notify the public of the nature and source of the fraud so that, hopefully, readers will not fall victim to these gemstone appraisal scams.

“When appraisal values are inflated to 100,000 times real market value, innocent people have been enticed to invest in these uncut gemstones. It would be impossible to recover their investment if they decide to sell these specimens resulting in substantial financial loss.” Bergman stated.

GIA's report on this 8.40-kilo lump says it is semi-translucent yo opaque ruby in zoisite matrix

In addition to exposing several deliberately inflated prices, Bergman also published that the International Gem Society (IGS), the Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA), and the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA) had terminated Zenetos’ membership. These three reputable organizations prioritize ethics and uphold a strict code of conduct for their members. Failure to adhere to these standards may result in termination of membership. In one email to Miguel Zenetos, NAJA stated that it had terminated Zenetos’ membership for preparing documents that were “fraudulent in their intent.”

During the past decades, scams involving fraudulent rough gemstone appraisals have resulted in huge losses to investors. In 2013, the BBC reported on a two-kilogram rough ruby specimen from Tanzania appraised at £11 Million. Wrekin Construction, a UK company, used a forged appraisal to boost its balance sheet. The valuation was consequently exposed as fraudulent, the ruby specimen was sold at auction for a mere £8,000, and Wrekin Construction declared bankruptcy with losses of more than £45 Million to creditors.

Bangkok’s Thonburi Criminal Court set the criminal defamation preliminary hearing for May 29, 2023, at 09.00 AM.

The same type of rough as the 8.4-kilogram piece that Zenotos appraised for US $335 million can be bought for about $250 per kilo. This photo was taken at the Tucson show booth of New Era Gems, a renowned California-based mineral and gemstone trader.