Paris trial opens into massive fraud involving fake French minister


Seven people are on trial in Paris for their aleged involvement in a multi-million fraud scandal that targeted more than 150 prominent figures and organisations and which included an impersonation by phone and Skype of then defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, now foreign minister, requesting funds for a supposed secret mission.

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A trial began in Paris on Tuesday of seven alleged fraudsters accused of impersonating a French minister to trick wealthy victims out of more than 50 million euros, reports BBC News.

Investigators say the scam involved a fake Jean-Yves Le Drian, now French foreign minister, requesting funds by phone and Skype for a "secret mission".

The alleged masterminds are two Franco-Israelis: Gilbert Chikli, 54, and Anthony Lasarevitsch, 35.

Ismaili Muslim leader the Aga Khan and a Turkish tycoon were allegedly conned.

At the time Mr Le Drian was defence minister and not especially well known internationally - a fact that apparently made the fake more believable. The money was often said to be for ransom payments to hostage-takers, or anti-terror operations.

In meetings arranged on Skype, one of the the fraudsters wore a custom-made Le Drian mask and sat in a facsimile of Le Drian's ministerial office, complete with flags and a portrait of then-President François Hollande.

The gang allegedly approached more than 150 prominent figures and organisations in 2015-2016, including King Philippe of Belgium, Gabonese President Ali Bongo, the CEO of the Lafarge cement company, church leaders and charities. In all but a few cases the targets did not fall for the gang's hoax.

The two chief suspects were extradited to France from Ukraine in 2017.

Mr Chikli and Mr Lasarevitsch deny the charges.

Read more of this report from BBC News.


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