Friday June 21, 2024

French court sentences pair who posed as minister

March 12, 2020

PARIS: A Paris court on Wednesday sentenced two men to several years in jail for their role in a bizarre money-making scam that involved impersonating a French government minister to dupe the rich and famous, sometimes using a silicone mask in his likeness.

The court found that Gilbert Chikli, 54, and Anthony Lasarevitsch, 35 -- who denied the charges -- were the masterminds of the scam that saw three victims part with some 55 million euros ($62 million).

The heaviest sentence of 11 years plus a two-million-euro fine went to Chikli, who shouted "It’s a scandal" from the dock. "You should be ashamed."

Lasarevitsch received a prison sentence of seven years and a fine of one million euros. The Franco-Israeli pair was tried for organised fraud and usurping the identity of Jean-Yves Le Drian -- now France’s foreign minister, but then minister of defence -- to raise money from wealthy political, business and religious figures.

Five others aged 27 to 59 faced lesser charges. One was released Wednesday, and four others received sentences ranging from suspended 15-month terms to five years. The scheme, which took place from 2015 to 2016, involved fraudsters posing as Le Drian to ask politicians and executives for financial aid for what they described as secret operations by the French state.

The fake "minister" made calls by telephone and video link to more than 150 targets -- of whom three were successfully duped. Prosecutors say the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili community, was conned by a Le Drian impersonator in 2016 and made five transfers for a total 20 million euros to Poland and China. Three of the payments were frozen, but 7.7 million euros disappeared.