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4 Feb, 2020 15:21

‘No time to explain, Elysee needs your money!’ French minister impersonators on trial for scamming MILLIONS

‘No time to explain, Elysee needs your money!’ French minister impersonators on trial for scamming MILLIONS

Conmen who duped wealthy donors into donating millions of euro to "secret missions" using Skype and a silicon mask of then-defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian are on trial in France. One of the defendants even inspired a movie.

The group allegedly targeted numerous marks since 2015, pleading for funds for off-the-books transactions like ransom payments or financing anti-terrorist operations, promising that the money would later be refunded by the French government.

The president of Gabon, French AIDS charity Sidaction, and the archbishop of Paris were among more than 150 people and entities who the group tried and failed to defraud.

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Most didn't fall for the ruse, but at least three hoaxes were successful. In 2016, Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, transferred a total €20 million ($22 million) to Poland and China, of which €7.7 million could not be recovered.

A few months later, Turkish tycoon Inan Kirac allegedly wired more than $47 million, believing he was buying the freedom of two journalists held hostage in Syria. The third victim was not publicly identified.

The swindlers were planning the same hoax using another fake personality – that of Prince Albert II of Monaco, whose silicon mask they had procured – but were busted before executing it, the prosecution said. Six of the defendants are on trial for the Le Drian con and subsequent plot, while one is said to have been involved in the latter scheme.

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The alleged masterminds were two Franco-Israeli men, Gilbert Chikli and Anthony Lasarevitsch, who deny all charges.

In a separate case, Chikli had been sentenced to seven years in 2015 for defrauding several French companies a decade earlier. The trial was held in absentia, since he had fled to Israel. But in 2017, he and Lasarevitsch were arrested in Ukraine and extradited to France, where he was jailed.

The 2015 French film 'Je Compte sur Vous' is based on Chikli's spree of swindling money by posing as a top executive and ordering corporate employees around. It was a sort of family business that he conducted with his brother Simon.

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In 2010, when Chikli was already notorious but did not yet have a criminal conviction, he said in an interview: "You've either got the gift or you haven't, it's like famous actors. When it comes to me, you can say that I have a gift."

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