The conmen allegedly posed as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to solicit money. (Reuters: Muhammed Hamed)
It had all the hallmarks of a slick action film: secret operations, international targets and hidden hostages.
- The conmen reportedly posed as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian via telephone and video calls and emails
- They allegedly told business owners they needed ransom money for hostages in the hands of Islamic extremists
- They tricked one man out of millions of euros before raising the suspicions of French and Israeli authorities
But Israeli police say a series of phone calls, purportedly made by the French Foreign Minister, were just that — fiction.
Three men, believed to be French-Israelis, have been arrested over claims they posed as Jean-Yves Le Drian to scam 8 million euros ($12 million) from a wealthy businessman who fell for the ruse.
The suspects told their targets, mostly business owners and directors of large companies on the French stock market, that the money was needed to fund secret operations and to pay ransom money for hostages in the hands of Islamic extremists in Syria and Mali, the BBC reports.
They were asked to keep the requests secret, as to avoid implicating and embarrassing the French Government.
Police allege the trio even built a replica of Mr Le Drian’s French foreign ministry office, complete with a framed portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron, to seal the deal during Skype calls to their marks.
“They phoned, sent emails and sometimes used the Skype video chat software to pretend to be the minister himself,” French newspaper Le Parisien reported.
“Most of the victims did not respond to these solicitations because the method used was a bit out of step with what is usually done in the hushed environment of diplomacy and business.”
The trio managed to swindle one businessman out of millions before raising the suspicions of French police, who worked alongside Israeli authorities to track the suspected conmen down.
According to French media, authorities closed in on the suspects as they were approaching a new victim, who was preparing to transfer 2 million euros.
The men, aged between 37 and 47, were last month arrested by Israeli police in Tel Aviv, where it’s believed their trial will be held.
Mr Le Drian is yet to publicly comment on the case.