THE billionaire leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims Aga Khan was among the victims of a French scam which extorted €78 million (£66m) from the ‘rich and the famous’ in the world.
Aga Khan reportedly made five transfers for a total £17m in 2016 to Poland and China.
The fraudster used a rubber mask to impersonate the French defence minister on Skype to plead for funds for a secret government mission. Three of the payments were frozen, but £6.5m vanished.
The trial in the case is underway in Paris.
The Franco-Israeli pair, Gilbert Chikli, 54, and Anthony Lasarevitsch, 35, are being tried as the alleged masterminds of the group, while five others face lesser complicity charges.
The gang contacted 150 corporate chief executives, heads of state, ambassadors and religious leaders using the identity of Jean-Yves Le Drian, the current French foreign minister.
Chikli and others made the targets believe they were being contacted by Le Drian, then defence minister, who would request money to pay ransoms for journalists being held hostage by Islamists in the Middle East.
The ‘fake’ Le Drian assured payments would be untraceable, as France officially does not pay ransoms to hostagetakers, and asked for the funds to be placed in a bank in China.
Turkish business magnate Inan Kirac was allegedly convinced to wire more than £36m and Corinne Mentzelopoulos, the owner of Chateau Margaux, handed over £5m.
The targets received an initial telephone call from someone in Le Drian’s inner circle. Then the “minister” in person, first on the phone then in a carefully staged Skype call in which the Le Drian lookalike sat in a perfect mock-up of his office, complete with flags and portrait of then-president François Hollande.
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 business chief executives.
After two years, he was arrested with Lasarevitsch in Ukraine. Prosecutors said another rubber mask was being prepared to mimic the features of Prince Albert II of Monaco.
The team was also preparing masks for president Emmanuel Macron and former presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.