French Connection 3 – French-Israeli Con-Artists Cause Diplomatic Crisis

3 French-Israeli Con-Men are believed to be behind an international scandal that has shaken the diplomatic world.

The French-Israeli scammers, as has been shown in the first two parts of our ongoing French Connection reports, are a crafty yet vicious group, who stop at nothing to reach their vile ends. Most of their scams have targeted innocent civilians and have accordingly received minimal to no coverage by most media outlets, one of their latest international scams has shaken the entire diplomatic world, made headlines across the globe and strained the diplomatic relations between Israel and France.

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Since 2015, someone has been contacting African heads of state, senior members of clergy and influential businessman, posing as the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves la Drian (these days Minister of defense) , requesting their assistance in helping France pay ransom for the release of French nationals who were abducted by ISIL or other terrorist organizations fighting in Syria. The imposter did not stop there.

As if that was not audacious enough, in a twist that seems to have been taken from a Hollywood film, the imposter (or imposters) have made a replica of the Foreign Minister’s office and created a silicone mask of his face. They have used the office and the mask to Skype with the targets of their scam, posing as the la Drian, mimicking his voice in a manner that fooled even those who have previously worked with him, and urging them to transfer the money to the abductors on France’s behalf. The money they were convinced to transfer to terrorist groups, was transferred to the accounts of the scammers.

A screenshot of the la Drian impersonator during a Skype chat with one of his victims, as it was shown on the ‘Envoye Special’ report

The scam, that spanned more than three years, has made the scammers around $90 million according to a special report that aired in the French prime-time investigative journalism program ‘Envoye Special’.  ‘Envoye Special’ report

Envoyé Spécial

In March, just a couple of weeks after the ‘Envoye Special’ report aired the Israeli police arrested 4 individuals, in the beautiful sea-side city of Netanya for being the masterminds behind the elaborate scam. “This is not an ordinary case but one with great international sensitivities that has caused a diplomatic incident between our two countries. This case is being investigated around the clock in both Israel and France” a representative of Israeli Police has told the judge shortly after the arrests were made. 

Three of the suspects were indicted Freddy Jami, David Eliash and Shmuel Ben Simon and charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, forgery with the intent of committing fraud, impersonation, and obstruction of justice.

The method

According to an article published in the Times of Israel, on February 25-26 2019, just weeks before their arrest, Freddy Jami called a French non-profit organization, posing as la Drian, and told them their help was urgently requested to liberate French citizens abducted in Syria. According to the article, Jami has told the non-profit organization that the money needed to be transferred via a third party in order to mask the fact that the French government is willing to negotiate with terrorist organizations and pay off the ransom for its kidnapped citizens. In a number of conversations held over two days, Jami has told the organization’s officials that the French government managed to collect €36M from various sources and asked the organization to transfer an additional €2-4M to a bank account in Hong-Kong. In order to allay the organization’s doubts, the suspects sent them a forged memo supposedly written by the French Foreign Office, where the non-profit’s contribution is acknowledged and they are assured the French government will repay them for any sum of money they provide towards this cause.

How the scam worked

According to an article published by the Guardian at least 40 senior businessmen were approached by the scammers over the years and the three have netted €8M from the scam. 

The Suspects

The suspects have wholly denied the accusations, claiming no wrongdoing, but their extensive criminal history raises many suspicions. Freddy Jami, who is likely to have been the head of the gang, has been a dominant figure in the underworld of Netanya (renowned as the crime capital of Israel). In 2009 he was closely linked to the accused in the extremely publicized trial of Asi Abutbul – the Israeli Michael Corleone, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison. While Jami himself was not indicted, he appears no less than 49 times in the charges, having served as a ‘middle man’ who transferred great sums of extorted money from various victims to the crime family.

After graduating from a local crime scene, Jami, Eliash and Ben Simon have moved on to bigger schemes. Much bigger. The three, alongside Michael Aknin, Stephane Alzraa (aka Michael Bloomberg), Gilbert Chikli played a key part in some of the biggest scams in recent European history. The suspects were part of a group that conducted the ‘VAT Scam’ – a scam in which criminals moved merchandise between borders, tricking European governments to pay them ‘back’ money they were never owed in the first place, netting the scammers an estimated $110M. The suspects were also part of the organization that traded in fraudulent CO2 emissions’ certificates, in a scam that has cost EU member states hundreds of millions of euros (according to certain estimates, Germany alone lost €800M due to the scam just in 2010-2011).

In parallel to their friends from Netanya  Frederic Grieco and Raoul Setrouk who managed the frauds “European Climate registry”, the “Blue Europe Carbone registry”, the “European Transport registry”, the “European VAT registry”, the “Accessibility diagnostic”stolling from thousands of victims with the same money journey: from the victims in Europe to Hong kong off shores then to additional tax havens accounts and finally to their own pockets in Israel. 

Due to their decades of cooperation with crime families and international scams, it is not too hard to believe the experience con artists are the evil geniuses behind this scam too.

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