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How one man robbed dozens of French banks

A man who swindled French banks and businesses into giving him millions of euros was sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail on Wednesday. And his victims revealed in court exactly how the smooth talker operated.

How one man robbed dozens of French banks
French bank LCL (Le Credit Lyonnais) was among those targeted. Photo: AFP
Gilbert Chikli, 49, who fled to Israel in 2009 after being charged, was the mastermind of a scheme which saw him fleece some of France's top companies, and is the subject of an international arrest warrant.
   
During the trial, a former director of the Credit Lyonnais bank — now known as LCL — gave the court a run down of Chikli's scheme that convinced her to hand one million euros to a stranger in the bathroom of a Parisian bar.
   
First, a man introducing himself as the president of Credit Lyonnais called her and told her a secret services agent would shortly get hold of her and she should do everything he told her.
   
The agent explained he was working on a case involving money laundering and terrorism and needed her to transfer him money to dismantle a criminal network.
   
“He spoke about attacks, confidentiality, he isolates you. At the time I was under pressure at work and I wanted to do things properly,” she told the court.
   
Among the 33 banks and businesses targeted with the scheme between 2005 and 2006 were consulting group Accenture, which lost 5.9 million euros, the Post Office Bank, HSBC, aerospace firm Dassault, electricity and rail giant Alstom and chic Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette.
   
Some of the affected banks and companies that filed a civil suit were awarded €5.5 million ($6.1 million) in damages and interest.    
 
Two of the fourteen alleged accomplices involved in the trial were acquitted, while the others received fines or jail terms of up to four years in jail.
 
– 'Gift of the gab' –
 
Prosecutor Alice Cherif said Chikli used mental manipulation and harassment to wear down carefully chosen targets.
   
The technique “combines validation: 'I chose you for the mission' … and isolation: 'don't tell your colleagues, your family,” said the magistrate.   
 
The prosecutor said most of the 52 employees who were duped at the various companies had been fired.
   
Chikli managed to swindle a total of 60.5 million euros, 52.6 million euros of which was later recovered.
   
His story inspired a movie that is currently being filmed.
   
In 2010 he proudly told French television he was not a crook and that his scheme was a “game.”
   
“We contact businesses, banks, we pretend to be their president and with a rather extraordinary gift of the gab we manage to get large amounts of money.
   
“Either you have the gift or you don't. You could say I have the gift.”
   
The prosecutor said Chikli pioneered a hoax which had been adopted by copycat fraudsters and become a “scourge” in France, with 710 such cons worth 365 million euros having taken place since 2010, and nearly 1,000 others foiled.

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BANK

French bank admits breaching US sanctions

French bank BNP Paribas pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges for violating US sanctions against blacklisted countries including Iran and Sudan, as part of a record $8.9 billion settlement.

French bank admits breaching US sanctions
French bank BNP pleaded guilty on Wednesday to US charges that it breached sanctions imposed on Sudan and Iran. Photo: Don Emmert/AFP

US prosecutors say France's largest bank deliberately hid thousands of transactions with the two countries, as well as Myanmar and Cuba, between 2004 and 2012, in what officials called a "complex and pervasive scheme" that top bank managers knew broke US law.

The guilty plea was made after a nearly two-hour hearing before US District Judge Lorna Schofield, with the bank admitting it conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act.

The US Justice Department unveiled the record fine on June 30, when BNP agreed to admit its guilt.

Other major banks such as Credit Agricole, Deutsche Bank and UniCredit fear they could be next in the cross-hairs of the US authorities.

Schofield accepted the plea deal as "fair and appropriate" after questioning the bank's general counsel Georges Dirani at length to make sure BNP had not been forced into accepting the agreement.

In the United States, a judge must approve any agreement involving the authorities. Very few deals involving banks have been rejected in recent years.

A final hearing is set to take place on October 3 to discuss details about the sanctions.

As part of the settlement, BNP will pay $8.83 billion as forfeiture of gains, split among several US agencies and authorities, and a $140 million fine.

It also agreed to give up US dollar clearing operations through its New York branch and other affiliates for one year in certain business lines like oil-related transactions, where officials say much of the misconduct took place.

And the bank is letting go of 13 employees, five of them top-level executives, including chief operating officer Georges Chodron de Courcel, who resigned in early June.

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