Fraudsters get hefty prison terms for impersonating French minister

Fraudsters claimed to be France's former defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

(CNN)Criminals who impersonated French government minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to con wealthy individuals out of 80 million euros as part of an elaborate scam were handed lengthy sentences Thursday.

A court in Paris sentenced Gilbert Chikli to 11 years in jail for fraud in an organized gang, criminal association, and taking the name of a third party, Le Drian's lawyer Delphine Meillet told CNN. Anthony Lasarevitsch received seven years for fraud in an organized gang and criminal association. The pair will also have to pay 2 million euros and 1 million euros in fines respectively.
The fraudsters tried to pull off what some in France are calling the scam of the century by impersonating Le Drian, Minister for Europe and foreign affairs, and conning wealthy individuals out of 80 million euros purportedly to help pay ransoms to free French hostages being held by Islamist terrorists.
    A third defendant, Sebastian Zawadzki, was sentenced in absentia to five years' imprisonment and handed a 1 million euro fine for acts of fraud in an organized gang. He remains at large but a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
    Meillet hailed the "very heavy" sentences.
    "It is sending a strong message to our society, to those who would dare fraudulently use the state's attributes," she said in a statement.
    Chikli and Lasarevitsch were also ordered to pay damages to two high-profile victims: 44 million euros to Turkish tycoon Inan Kirac and 10.6 million euros to spiritual leader Aga Khan.
    The multi-million dollar con lasted two years and targeted more than 150 people, including the President of Niger, the Prime Minister of Norway, the Archbishop of Lyon, the owner of Chateau Margaux wines, the King of Belgium, the director general of UNESCO and numerous CEOs.
    Attempts to extort money from embassies and governments were made in more than 50 countries, according to French court documents.
      According to many of the victims, to earn their trust an initial phone call was followed up by a Skype video call. During this exchange, the con artist wore a custom-made silicone mask of Le Drian's face and sat in a replica of the minister's office complete with both the tricolor flag of France and a flag of Europe, pictures in the court documents show.
      The group also planned to impersonate Prince Albert II of Monaco, according to investigators who found pictures of a silicone mask of the monarch on Lasarevitsch's cell phone.