A huckster sentenced for tricking dozens of French banks and businesses into handing over millions of euros has been arrested in Ukraine after a hunt lasting more than two years.
French judicial sources and a lawyer for Gilbert Chikli, a 51-year-old Frenchman, said an extradition hearing would be held on Sunday after he was detained along with a French-Israeli man on Friday.
His arrest was initially reported by the French news weekly Le Point.
Chikli is the alleged mastermind of a scheme that saw some of France’s top companies get embarrassingly fleeced.
He would contact banks and firms posing as either their CEO or a secret service agent and instruct them to hand over large sums, often in the guise of an operation against money laundering.
Thirty-three banks and businesses were targeted between 2005 and 2006, including consulting group Accenture, the Post Office Bank, HSBC, aerospace firm Dassault, electricity and rail giant Alstom and the chic Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette.
He managed to swindle a total of 60.5 million euros ($71.15 million), 52.6 million euros of which was later recovered.
At his trial, a former director of the Credit Lyonnais bank — now known as LCL — gave the court a rundown of Chikli’s scheme that convinced her to hand a million euros to a stranger in the toilet of a Parisian bar.
Chikli spent several months in custody before fleeing to Israel in 2009, where he has been living openly. It is not immediately clear why he was in Ukraine.
Interviewed by French television in 2010, Chikli said he was intrigued by the “game” of scamming.
“You’ve either got the gift or you don’t, it’s like famous actors. When it comes to me, you can say that I have a gift,” he said.
In 2015, he was sentenced in absentia to seven years’ jail and a fine of a million euros. The court also ordered him to pay 5.5 million euros in damages and interest to his victims.
“We have always given our agreement that the rest of his sentence be served in Israel,” Chikli’s lawyer, David-Olivier Kaminski, said on Saturday.
Two accomplices were sentenced to four years in jail and fines of 50,000 euros.
His story inspired a 2015 film, “Je Compte Sur Vous” (I’m Counting on You), with French actor Vincent Elbaz in the starring role.