In the public interest.
AP Investigation: How con man used China to launder millions
I have a couple of questions – How is it that an Israeli self confessed con and money launderer can live in Israel and avoid extradition to a French Court? How can he be tried in absentia? Where is Interpol the global policeman?
ASHDOD, Israel | Gilbert Chikli was rolling in money, stolen from some of the world’s biggest corporations. His targets: Accenture. Disney. American Express. In less than two years, he made off with at least 6.1 million euros from France alone.
But he had a problem. He couldn’t spend the money. A tangle of banking rules designed to stop con men like him stood between Chikli and his cash. He needed to find a weak link in the global financial system, a place to make his stolen money appear legitimate.
He found it in China.
“China has become a universal, international gateway for all manner of scams,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Because China today is a world power, because it doesn’t care about neighboring countries, and because, overall, China is flipping off other countries in a big way.”
A visionary con man, Chikli realized early on — around 2000, the year before China joined the World Trade Organization — the potential that lay in the shadows of China’s rise, its entrenched corruption and informal banking channels that date back over 1,000 years. The French-Israeli man told the AP he laundered 90 percent of his money through China and Hong Kong, slipping it into the region’s great tides of legitimate trade and finance.
Today, he is in good company.
China’s central bank and police refused repeated requests for comment.
In a regular briefing with reporters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the government “places great emphasis” on fighting crimes such as money laundering and is working to expand international cooperation. “China is not, has not been, nor will be in the future a center of global money laundering,” he said.
Chikli is widely credited in France with inventing a con that has inspired a generation of copycats. Chikli’s scam, called the fake president or fake CEO scam, has cost companies around the world $1.8 billion in just over two years, according to the FBI. And the damages are rising fast.
Security cameras poke over the high wooden fence that encircles Chikli’s property, a sleek, three-story home in Ashdod, a port city on the Mediterranean. Beyond that, a swing set, pink-and-purple tricycle and orange ball jumble his lawn. And then there is Chikli himself, tan and smiling at his massive front door. He was sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison by a French court last year and remains a wanted man, but here in Israel, he lives openly and talked about his criminal exploits with pride during four hours of interviews with the AP.