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'The Masked Scammer': How Gilbert Chikli Defrauded Europe's Rich
Infamous scammer Gilbert Chikli defrauded bank managers and unsuspecting world leaders through ingenious methods, as highlighted in the Netflix documentary "The Masked Scammer."
The story of Gilbert Chikli sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood film: A boy from the working class neighborhood of Belleville in Paris, France, grows up to become one of the most infamous scammers in history.
Chikli achieved notoriety by orchestrating a scam in which someone impersonated French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian from 2015 to 2016, as highlighted in the Netflix documentary "The Masked Scammer." He and associate Anthony Lasarevitsch contacted wealthy European figures under the guise of asking for their help in a covert French operation, according to the Guardian. After an initial phone call, they’d arrange a video meeting in which someone would wear a silicone mask bearing the likeness of Le Drian while sitting in an office that looked convincing enough to trick an unsuspecting target.
It was during these calls, the BBC reported, that the fake Le Drian told his marks the French government needed their help paying ransoms for journalists being held hostage by extremists in the Middle East. Since the French didn’t pay ransoms, the money would have to be wired to a Chinese bank account that could not be linked to the government.
While they attempted to scam almost 150 different figures, only three people — Islamic leader Aga Khan, Turkish leader İnan Kıraç, and the owner of Chateau Margaux wines — fell victim to his crimes and sent him 55 million euros.
Those who wisely wrote off the scammers said that they noticed small missteps, which prompted them to report their calls to police.
According to the BBC, Senegalese leader Macky Sall noticed that the man posing as Le Drian used the formal “vous,” instead of “tu,” when speaking to him — something that the real Le Drian, whom Sall was friends with, wouldn’t have done.
Champagne magnate Bruno Paillard was similarly approached by a faux-Le Drian but was confused as to why he of all people would be approached by the French government. As he told CNN, “As a champagne producer we make people happy, but we’re not necessarily good at saving the lives of people who are being held in strange countries.”
Paillard was one of the many people to report this scam to the French defense department, which launched an investigation in April 2016. Prosecutors would eventually arrest Chikli and charge him with organized fraud and usurping a person’s identity.
Though Chikli admitted to involvement in the masked scam, he denied being the mastermind or the person wearing the Le Drian mask.
“What can I tell you? They’ve got it wrong!” he insisted during a February 2020 hearing. “There are 20 billion cases like this per year, I’ve got nothing to do with this! I have no answers to your questions.”
Chikli was ultimately convicted in March 2020 and sentenced to 11 years plus a €2 million fine, while Lasarevitsch received a seven-year sentence and a €1 million fine, according to The Guardian.
Prior to his March 2020 conviction, Chikli had been convicted of impersonating bank CEOs and convincing bank managers to bring him briefcases full of money.
“I understood that the bankers were never convicted,” he shared in an interview with the Associated Press in 2016. “If the bankers were never convicted, then I needed to indirectly become an official banker.”
After duping about 30 bank managers, whom he referred to as his accomplices, he then gave them a portion of the funds he stole as compensation for their services. He sent these individuals credit cards linked to offshore bank accounts containing $55,800, The Associated Press reports.
He sent another woman 18 red roses and a larger sum, saying that he felt bad for manipulating her as he did.
“If I remember correctly, we sent her 180,000 euros. That’s how we wanted to apologize,” he told the AP.
This scam was highlighted in the 2015 French film “Thank You For Calling” — which Chikli was paid for consulting on.