3 French-Israelis allegedly swindled $11m, claiming funds would free captives
Police arrest gang in Netanya suspected of tricking French NGOs into paying money for ransoms to release soldiers supposedly held by terrorists in Syria, Mali
Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.
Three French-Israelis have been arrested on suspicion of conning well-meaning organizations in France into paying millions of euros, in the belief they were giving for a ransom to secure the release of French soldiers held by terror groups.
Over the past several months the gang is believed to have fleeced €10 million ($11 million) from French non-governmental groups by posing as officials from France’s ministries of defense and foreign affairs, and on some occasions even pretending to be the foreign and defense ministers themselves, the Ynet website reported Tuesday.
The suspects were arrested last week in the central city of Netanya following a joint investigation by the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 national crime unit and French police. Police nabbed the suspects during a weekend raid on an apartment on King David street in the coastal city.
In addition to several apartments in Netanya, the suspects also had a motor yacht tied up at the Ashdod marina. In one of the apartments, officers found laptops and false documents tying the suspects to the case.
The gang reportedly contacted various organizations that champion the cause of French soldiers, and presented themselves as government officials seeking secure the release of troops held captive by the Islamic State terror group in Syria or by militant groups in the west African nation of Mali.
The gang told the organizations that the French government wished to pay off kidnappers to release the soldiers but needed go-betweens as its policy was not to negotiate with terrorists.
Using fake emails and forged documents complete with government logos, the fraudsters convinced multiple organizations to transfer more than a million euros each to foreign accounts, mostly in China, while assuring them that the government would quickly reimburse them.
French police managed to trace the group to its operations base in Israel. Joining forces with their Israeli counterparts, investigators were able to track down the alleged crooks.
The suspects, who have reportedly been remanded in custody twice, deny the allegations.