A CONMAN wearing a bizarre latex mask to pose as the French foreign minister conned £70m out some of the world’s richest people.
For two years a scammer impersonated Jean-Yves Le Drian to swindle a fortune from wealthy victims including the Aga Khan, who lost £15m.
A lawyer for the French Foreign Minister has called it an ‘exceptional’ story[/caption]
Other alleged victims include the owners of the Château Margaux vineyards who lost €3 million and a Turkish businessman who is said have paid out more than £30m, according to reports in France.
At the time of the elaborate scam – in 2016 and 2017 – all believed they were helping the French government pay ransoms for hostages held by Islamic extremists.
The sting needed the targets to believe they were being contacted directly by Mr Le Drian, who then requested financial help to free French nationals in the Middle East.
As France does not pay ransoms to hostage-takers, the fake Le Drian assured payments could not be traced and asked for the funds to be transferred to a bank in China.
The con normally started with a phone call from someone claiming to be a member of Mr Le Drian’s inner circle.
The apparent go-between would then arrange a video conference call with the “minister” himself.
Then in meetings arranged on a muzzy Skype connection, a fraudster wore a custom-made Le Drian mask and sat in a copy of Le Drian’s ministerial office – complete with French flags.
“Everything about the story is exceptional,” Delphine Meillet, lawyer to Mr Le Drian, who is now France’s foreign minister, told the BBC.
“They dared to take on the identity of a serving French minister. Then they called up CEOs and heads of government round the world and asked for vast amounts of money. The nerve of it!”
Guy-Petrus Lignac, of the Petrus wine dynasty, admits he was nearly taken in by the incredible con.
“Looking back now I ask myself a lot of questions. But it did look like him,” he told a France Télévision documentary.
“He was asking for my help as a service for the state. It’s scary because maybe if he had asked for less money, I might have said yes.”
Cops pieced together what they claim is one of the most brazen frauds of modern times after the imprisonment in France of Gilbert Chikli, a 54-year-old Franco-Israeli.
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He is suspected of being the ringleader of the gang and he has also been accused as being the main impersonator of Mr Le Drian on the telephone and in video calls.
Chikli, who was extradited from Ukraine to France 18 months ago, denies any involvement in ‘Le Drian Gang’, which continued to impersonate the minister after his arrest.
Mr Le Drian, 72, a Breton former Socialist with a distinctive gravelly voice, served for five years as President Hollande’s defence minister before joining President Macron’s government in 2017.
Le Drian (R) embraces Serge Lazarevic (L) who was released after being kidnapped by extremists in Mali[/caption]
Some cops believe the con may be the work of Gilbert Chikli[/caption]