Netflix’s latest true crime documentary, The Masked Scammer, is so extraordinary it’s almost stranger than fiction. It involves the Aga Khan, a bizarre money-making scam, and a hunt for a master conman that took detectives from France and Israel to Ukraine.
Featuring interviews with his accomplices and victims, the French-language film explores how Gilbert Chikli — aka The Masked Scammer — duped VIPs and French elites out of millions of euros by posing as a well-known French politician, even using a silicone mask made to look like him.
But who is Gilbert Chikli? And how did he come up with his elaborate hoax? Here’s everything you need to know about The Masked Scammer on Netflix…
Is The Masked Scammer a true story?
Yes! Although the documentary The Masked Scammer seems like the plot of a crime thriller, believe it or not it’s a completely true story. It tells how between 2015 and 2017 ordinary Frenchman Gilbert Chikli masterminded a scam to extort 80 million euros from French VIPs, and even the Aga Khan, by posing as the then French Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The plot was so elaborate that Chikli would even appear in video conferences behind a fake official desk, wearing a silicone mask made to look like Le Drian.
Who is The Masked Scammer Gilbert Chikli?
Gilbert Chikli is a French-Israeli dual national who grew up in poverty in the suburb of Belleville, Paris. His dad worked in a garage and his mum had her hands full with five children, while the tiny flat they lived in had no bathroom or heating.
Chikli grew up obsessed with turning the family’s fortunes around. But by 2005, he’d fallen into debt and began extorting of cash from people by posing as counter terrorist agents or business chief executives from companies including Michelin, the French post office, and the supermarket Intermarche. He eventually fled to Israel in 2006 when detectives got wind of his hoax.
What was The Masked Scammer's VIP plot?
While living in Israel in 2015, Chikli came up with a scheme to pose as the French Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, a respected politician and the second most important person in France at that time.
His plan involved asking French VIPs, wealthy businessmen and religious figures for financial aid to help with secret operations being carried out by the French state, or for ransom money to help free French hostages being held by Islamist terrorists in Mali.
To make his scenario more believable he assumed the identity of Le Drian by ordering a silicone mask in his likeness and copying his voice. In total, he made calls by telephone or videolink to more than 150 targets and successfully duped three of them.
How was The Masked Scammer caught?
In 2017 Chikli targeted Sophie Grenier, the Financial Director of the French Chamber of Commerce, who appears in the documentary The Masked Scammer.
Chikli posed as Le Drian and again he asked for cash as ransom money to help free French hostages held in Mali. However, following the video call, Sophie became suspicious when the fake Le Drian sent her a confidential document that was littered with spelling mistakes.
She called French detectives, who came up with a plan to uncover the identity of the man behind the mask, which involved setting up a listening system to overhear Sophie’s conversations with the scammer. They then traced the account number where Sophie’s ransom payment was due to be made to Gilbert Chikli.
As soon as Chikli was identified, detectives raced to his home in Israel, only to discover he’d fled to Ukraine. An arrest warrant was issued, and when he was finally tracked down, police found all the photos and videos relating to his crime on his mobile phone.
They also discovered he’d ordered silicone masks of other political figures, including Emmanuel Macron and Prince Albert II of Monaco, meaning it was likely he had larger scale hoaxes in the pipeline.
How much did The Masked Scammer embezzle? Where is Gilbert Chikli now?
Between 2005 and 2017 it’s thought that Gilbert Chikli extorted more than 100 million euros. In 2020 he appeared in a Paris court charged with organised fraud and using the identity of Jean-Yves Le Drian. He was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years and fined two million euros.
Chikli is currently in prison in France, yet he still denies any involvement in the hoax. As he was sentenced, he even shouted from the dock: ‘It’s a scandal. You should be ashamed.’
Where can I watch The Masked Scammer?
The Masked Scammer is a 90-minute French-language documentary with English subtitles and is available worldwide from 1 December. See our best Netflix series guide for more shows to watch, and our guide to the best Netflix true-crime documentaries for more like The Masked Scammer.
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Hannah has been writing about TV for national newspapers and magazines ever since the 1990s when she covered the soaps for Woman magazine — and she still prides herself on rarely having missed an episode of EastEnders. Since then she’s written for various publications, including What To Watch, TV Times, What’s On TV, TV & Satellite Week, Woman & Home, Psychologies and Good Housekeeping.
Apart from EastEnders, her other favorite shows include Succession, Unforgotten, Line of Duty, Motherland and anything by Russell T Davies. When Hannah isn’t watching or writing about telly, you’re likely to find her enjoying London’s latest theatre shows, taking her campervan on a wet UK holiday or embarrassing her teenage kids.