A French conman currently living in Israel has been sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison and fined €1 million ($1.11 million) for fraud by a Paris court, The Telegraph website reported.
Gilbert Chikli fled to Israel in 2009, after his release from jail in France, and currently lives in a luxury, high-security residence in Ashdod – despite an international warrant for his arrest.
The prosecutor at the trial described Chikli as the "mastermind" of the fraud, which cost French companies an estimated €7.9 million between 2005 and 2006.
A dozen accomplices were handed down sentences from a €1,500 fine to four years in a prison and a €50,000 fine. Two defendants were acquitted.
Dubbed “the false chairman scam,” it involved Chikli pretending to be the CEO or director of a bank or commercial company and persuading employees to hand over cash.
He defrauded 33 banks and companies, including the French Post Office, HSBC, Crédit Lyonnais, Accenture, Disneyland Paris and Galéries Lafayette, Paris’ giant department store. Most of the 52 employees of these groups that fell for his act were subsequently fired.
In one case, he convinced a bank branch manager to hand over €385,000 in cash in the lavatories of a Paris café, thinking it was part of a top secret intelligence operation.
“I picked up my telephone and contacted bank directors and spun them a story. They believed it, wired me money, and voilà,” he told Capital Radio in Paris from his home in Ashdod.
“When you think a film is very good, it’s because the actor was great and played his part well. It’s the same here. To do what I did you have to have the gift of the gab, be self-assured, a good actor and above all a great liar. It so happens that I have all these qualities and it works.”
In an interview published in Wednesday’s Libération newspaper, he said he had no intention of turning himself in.
“French justice wanted to turn me into an example. What do they hold against me? That I’m an identity thief. OK, it’s not good but that’s not fraud,” Chikli said.
It is thought that Chikli defrauded other companies for tens of millions more over other years not covered by this trial.
French authorities said Chikli’s technique spawned hundreds of copycat scams, with one recent estimate placing the losses from this type of fraud since 2010 at €350 million and another 985 attempts to steal €700 million blocked in the nick of time.
A film about his life featuring Julie Gayet, French president François Hollande’s girlfriend, is currently being shot around Tel Aviv.