TUNIS, Tunisia (AFP) — On social media he burned 500-euro notes and flaunted “his Bentley.” In real life, Swagg Man is accused of having ripped off young fans to the tune of $1.8 million.
The French-Tunisian social media phenomenon, whose real name is Iteb Zaibet, was arrested in Tunis in July 2019 and sentenced Monday to five years in prison in a separate case for fraud and money laundering, with the equivalent of $6 million seized from his accounts.
Several other probes are underway, in both France and Tunisia, against the fan of chunky jewelry and out-there outfits, who has his body covered with tattoos, including Louis Vuitton logos on his skull.
The 34-year-old was born in Nice to a Franco-Tunisian family, according to accounts by relatives.
But that account does not tally with the mysterious origins Swagg Man cultivated, presenting himself as Rayan Sanchez, the son of a Jewish Tunisian mother and Brazilian father who was abandoned and forced to live on the street.
‘Anyone can make it’
An internet phenomenon in the early 2010s, he posted photos and music clips depicting himself as a cynical high-roller who started out as a DJ in Dubai.
This persona drew hundreds of thousands of followers to his social media accounts, where he championed a cult of money, luxury cars and bling.
In a 2015 interview with French daily Le Monde, he defined himself as “a buzz that lasts” and said he “made money through the net, then with real estate, in Miami and Dubai.”
Appearing on France’s Canal Plus television the next year, he said his goal was to prove that “anyone can make it.”
But testimonies from fans claiming to have been scammed by Swagg Man have poured in, first via a Facebook page, then an association set up in France called Swagg Auxilium.
According to the association, the dozens of victims are mainly fans, aged 13 to 35, who had turned to their idol for advice on how to get rich.
He is accused of having offered them lucrative investment opportunities, as well as asking for funds to support humanitarian causes or to pay for bail.
Trial in Tunisia
Some of them pressed charges, but “the scams targeted different jurisdictions, so it was almost impossible for security services to gather enough elements in their investigations,” according to Auxilium.
In 2019 and 2020, 21 alleged victims claiming a total loss worth more than $1.7 million, filed a suit in Tunisia, one of their lawyers, Mohamed Ben Brahem, told AFP.
The sums allegedly extorted from French, Tunisian, Algerian and Canadian nationals range from a few thousand to several hundred thousand euros each, he said.
Swagg Man, who appears on Instagram living it up in Miami, was convicted this week — along with a Swiss national, who remains at large — over two suspect transfers worth more than six million euros paid into his Tunisian account from Switzerland, said Mohsen Dali, a deputy public prosecutor.
Swagg Man’s lawyer, Mahdi Louzir, said the money was to be used to buy industrial machinery and his client was an intermediary in the deal.
As for the fans’ complaints in the separate case, they were business losses, the defense argues.
Investigations into 19 of the complaints have been completed and a trial should open soon, according to Ben Brahem.
There is also a warrant out for Swagg Man’s arrest in France.
It was issued in October 2019 as part of a judicial investigation for fraud, breach of trust, counterfeiting, forgery and falsification of records, said the prosecutor’s office in the French city of Nanterre.
Swagg Man’s social media accounts have gone silent since July 4, 2019, when he posted a photo taken in front of a courthouse in Tunis.
“If this is my last photo, I will miss you very much,” he told followers.