Trial begins of French-Israeli men over fake foreign minister scam

Victims included billionaire spiritual leader the Aga Khan, who handed over €20m

4 Feb 2020

A group of men accused of using Skype and a silicone mask to extract tens of millions of euros from the rich and famous by impersonating a leading French politician are to go on trial in Paris on Tuesday.

Victims of the fake Jean-Yves Le Drian – now foreign minister but then in charge of defence – included the billionaire spiritual leader the Aga Khan, who parted with €20m (£17m).

Starting in 2015, the “minister” made calls by telephone and video link wearing the mask to more than 150 targets – of whom three were successfully duped – often to seek funds for a “secret operation” with a promise of repayment by the French state.

The money was often said to be for ransom payments or anti-terror operations.

“I hope that justice will take its course and ensure that these crooks are punished as they should be,” the real Le Drian told French media over the weekend, adding he was “appalled” and “offended” by the alleged abuse of his name.

Two Franco-Israeli suspects, Gilbert Chikli, 54, and Anthony Lasarevitsch, 35, are thought to be the masterminds of the group.

In 2015, a French court convicted Chikli in absentia to seven years in prison for similar scams in 2005 and 2006, in which he posed as the CEOs of a number of businesses.