(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
French-Israeli dual citizens defrauded a French professional soccer team and a number of other French businesses, as part of a multi million-euro scam based in Herzliya, according to an indictment issued in Tel Aviv Sunday.
Two members of the alleged operation, Tomi Bellaiche, 34, and Robert Belhassan, 55, were indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday. A further three remain in custody, but have not yet been charged.
The alleged con artists would pose as an attorney or an official representing a corporation, and would contact the firms in France, requesting money transfers for deals that had been falsified.
In the case of the soccer team Olympique de Marseille, a member of the ring allegedly called the club, posing as sports agent Meissa N’Diaye, and sent the squad an email from a fictitious account bearing his name. They claimed that the €756,000 the team agreed to pay for the player had been sent to the wrong bank account, and managed to convince the team to send them the funds to an account in their control in the Czech Republic.
That bank account was one of several that the group allegedly operated in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Cyprus, according to investigators.
The alleged scam was run out of an office that the suspects rented last year in Herzliya Pituah.
They opened a front company in the office, installing computers and phones with programs that masked their country of origin. Their alleged victims had no idea they were calling from Israel and not France, the indictment states.
Over the course of the past year, the ring collected financial information on hundreds of companies to find opportunities to defraud them.
Altogether they are suspected of defrauding at least two French companies into making transfers of some €1.76 million.
The suspects face charges of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and other offenses. In addition, they stand accused of destroying evidence, in particular Bellaiche, who supposedly on December 31, 2014, got wind that investigators were closing in and spent hours at the Herzliya office deleting programs on the computers and disposing other evidence.
Israel Police say the case includes testimony from a series of businessmen in France and emails that were sent by the suspects to their alleged targets.
In her indictment, prosecutor Ofra Karmani-Ottolenghi wrote that the case is “part of a known phenomenon of Israelis scamming companies in France.”
She mentions recent warnings issued by the French Interior Ministry to French companies that Israeli con artists posing as legitimate businessmen may come calling.
“This phenomenon causes great damage not only to the companies that are targeted but also to the image of Israel, which allows these actions to be carried out from its territory and provides a safe refuge for money laundering,” the prosecution added.
There is already an international arrest warrant against both of the suspects indicted Sunday, which were taken out by the French authorities on fraud and money laundering activities between 2005 and 2009.
Israel Police said their investigation has not revealed a link between the suspects, their alleged scam and any organized crime figures in Israel.