Champagne maker conned out of fizz fortune by ‘secret agent’
A Champagne producer has been swindled out of 50,000 bottles of fizz and over £120,000 by five conmen, including a French policeman who claimed to be a secret agent.
As reported by The Telegraph, the quintet, including an interior ministry staffer, duped Champagne maker Hughes B (whose surname has not been disclosed) into handing over £120,000 over the course of five years.
The criminals tricked the vigneron into thinking that the money was going towards a series of improbable ‘missions’ involving former US President, Barack Obama, and the Moroccan royal family.
They also fooled him into thinking that the bottles of Champagne he handed over would be used to secure “massive deals” with top international figures, including “the emperor of China”.
According to French newspaper Le Parisien, the men face charges of abuse of weakness and extortion, leading to the collapse of the victim’s Champagne house.
The accused deny wrongdoing and claim the whole thing was a “joke”.
The gang’s ringleader, intelligence agent Ahmed Z, worked for France’s protection service of high-profile personalities, including the Moroccan royal family’s entourage.
Hughes B is described as “a psychologically frail individual with megalomaniac delusions”, who the quintet referred to as the ‘Very Important Madman’.
The duping began in 2007 when Ahmed Z convinced Hughes B to hand over 50,000 bottles of his Champagne and €40,000 in “marketing fees” to secure contracts with high-profile individuals.
As part of the scam, Ahmed Z flew the wine producer to Marrakesh to allegedly introduce him to the Moroccan royal family, who failed to show up.
Hughes B was also promised a role in the next Alain Delon film and a job as scriptwriter for the United Nations by the scammers.
They even managed to convince him to pay them €20,000 to transport a plane supposedly gifted to him by Barack Obama over to France.
The vintner pressed charges in 2012 when his Champagne house went into liquidation. “I only realised I’d been swindled when I lost my company,” he told investigators. Before his house went bust, Hughes B produced 450,000 bottles of Champagne a year.
“Usually, in this type of case you get the weak exploiting the even weaker. In this case, they methodically fleeced him like true professionals and refined psychologists. It’s despicable,” the plaintiff’s lawyer, Marie Dosé, told Le Parisien.