It is quite natural that the paths of a Turkish tycoon whose company owns a Peugeot car plant and French Defense Minister Jean Yves Le Drian cross. So, when he received a phone call from the French minister, İnan Kıraç apparently believed it. Except, the man on the other end of the line in the video call was not the minister but a professional con artist. Asking him to help France to secure the release of hostages captured by a terrorist group, the fake Le Drian - complete with a prosthetic face mask resembling the original minister sitting in his "office" - persuaded Kıraç to give the French government 4.1 million euros ($4.67 million).
The story was first reported by French media last week, and Turkish media outlets received confirmation from Kıraç, a man with close connections with France, that he indeed made the payment. France 2 television reported that the scammer attempted to defraud 80 million euros from several heads of state, prominent businesspeople and statesmen with the same ploy. Gilbert Chikli, a French-Israeli man, is the main suspect in the case, where he used an authentic-looking office and a silicone mask to convince his victims. French media reported that victims believed him when he told them that the French government did not want to appear to be paying for hostages and wanted to use "secret funds," pledging to pay victims back. Ertuğrul Özkök, a columnist for Hürriyet daily, said he personally spoke with Kıraç and the businessman confirmed the payment he wired to a Chinese bank upon instruction of the scammer. "I was suspicious when I was told to send it to a Chinese bank and only found out that I was [defrauded] when I called the French Embassy in Turkey," he was quoted as saying. Kıraç's payment was not transferred to the scammer once the fraud was revealed, and the businessman now awaits its return.
The Turkish public is no stranger to phone scammers posing as important figures of authority. Legendary con artist Selçuk Parsadan defrauded then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller by posing as a general on the phone in the 1990s.