Six men earned themselves $50 million by asking wealthy individuals to pay for fake government operations through their impersonations of a French defense minister. 54 year old Gilbert Chikli and 35 year old Anthony Lasarevitsch were the brains behind the plot in Paris, being sentenced to 11 and 7 years and a 2 million euro and 1 million euro fine respectively.
Four other men, ranging from ages 27 to 49 were suspected of involvement in the scheme. They received sentences of 15 months to 5 years in prison, differing because of their levels of immersement in the scheme. They were fined between 40,000 euros and 100,000 euros. One of the men was found not guilty.
Mr. Le Drian was impersonated in both phone calls and video calls. The fake minister would ask for millions of Euros, with the urgency of national security, delicate and time-sensitive release of hostages, and terrorists. They convinced their targets that this had to stay under wraps, for the reason that they could not use taxpayer money to pay ransoms and they carried out their plans from 2015 to 2016. They were able to convince embassies from multiple countries, clergymen, charities, foreign governments, even archbishops of Lyon and Paris, and chief executives of large companies.
It was said that the funds would go back to who paid them, but they needed the money swiftly and silently delivered to foreign accounts. Multiple targets saw through the ruse and had alerted the Defense Ministry, giving investigators awareness of the situation in July of 2015. However, not every target was so guarded. Others sent money. Karim Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, sent more than $20 million in March 2016. Corinne Mentzelopoulos, owner of Chateau Margaux wine, sent over $6 million. Inan Kirac, a Turkish businessman, sent $47 million in November and December of 2016.
Some of the money had been stopped, but $50 million made its way into their hands. Attempts to trace the money are ongoing and defendants were found guilty for additional money-laundering charges. The court awarded millions to some of the victims. 44 million euros were given to Mr. Kirac, but recovering the money is still being speculated upon.
This was not Chikli’s first rodeo. He was sentenced in 2015 to seven years in prison. He was fined 1 million euros for similar crimes of getting targets to send money to “top-secret” and entirely fake operations. This was used as evidence to pin the crime on Chikli and he was thrown into prison. The criminals were punished, but the damages may never be completely recovered.