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French FM speaks out about con men who impersonated him

Jessica Le Masurier | French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told FRANCE 24 on Friday how con men “made a mask of his face” and impersonated him in a bid to swindle a businessman out of 8 million euros.

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“No one can get away with pretending to be me. If you try to, then you go to prison,” laughed Le Drian as he talked to FRANCE 24 at the French Mission to the UN in New York.

But the truth is that these men did get away with it for some time and they managed to steal millions of euros from a French businessman who fell for their elaborate hoax.

Israeli police arrested three French-Israeli men thought to be behind the scam in a suburb of Tel Aviv in February this year.

The three men, aged between 37 and 47, are accused of passing themselves off as the French foreign minister in emails, and video calls on Skype, to extract cash from their victims.

They claimed it was for ransom money to release hostages held by Islamic extremists in Syria and Mali.

They even built a replica of the foreign minister's office, complete with a photo of French President Emmanuel Macron in the background. Asked if the mock office was a good likeness, Le Drian said: "They did a pretty good job. Unfortunately some people fell for it. They did a really good impression of my voice. But no-one can truly pass themselves off as me.”

Le Drian added that the men had even gone so far as to make a mask of his face.

They were allegedly caught making a call to their latest victim when police and members of Israel’s international crimes unit Lahav 433 apprehended them.

Investigators say they have been tracking similar scams since 2015.

This scam began last September when the alleged fraudsters began calling company chiefs from France’s stock exchange, the CAC 40.

Around 40 executives were approached, as well as several embassies and consulates.

Under questioning, the three men denied any involvement in the fraud.

Investigators said they had seized a yacht in Tel Aviv marina as well as freezing their property assets.

The case will be tried in Israel.

News of the case was leaked to the press on the same day that Le Drian hosted a UN Security Council meeting on curbing the financing of terrorists.

The resolution calls on member states not to pay ransoms for hostages, something that France has been accused of doing in the past.

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