Anthony Enrique Gignac was a master of the fraud, but a small slip brought him down to earth.
It’s hard not to admire good conmen. Weaving tales of intrigue and deception, they bring colour into our lives – assuming we are not one of their victims. This week we doff our cap to a conman extraordinaire – Anthony Enrique Gignac.
Adopted by an American family at the age of six, and thereby saved from a life of poverty on the streets of Colombia, Gignac rewarded his adoptive family and made the most of his good fortune by becoming “an epic con artist” and pursuing “a life of crime and deception that spanned 30 years”, as Mark Seal puts it in Vanity Fair.
The art of persuasion
Renowned for being so persuasive “he could convince you he was a green toad”, Gignac was a fan of the big gesture. He convinced a Miami lawyer to spring him from jail with the promise of future legal work for the Saudi royal family. He tricked American Express into giving him a platinum credit card with a $100m line of credit. He once promised a university a $1m donation if it gave his friend a scholarship.
While being forcibly returned to Miami by bail bondsmen, he tried to get the flight delayed by claiming that he was a kidnapped Saudi Royal. “I am Prince Khalid Al Saud,” he reportedly shouted. “They are kidnapping me. Call the embassy. Call CNN!”
Over the course of his career, Gignac has variously claimed to be “an adopted member of the Saudi family, the lover of a Saudi prince who had received hush money, and a go-between for Saudi money and terrorists”, as Kyle Swenson reports in the Washington Post. Most recently he was caught tooling around in a Ferrari with fake diplomatic plates on Fisher Island, an exclusive one-percenter enclave off Miami Beach accessible only by ferry or helicopter. He boasted of worldwide business connections and a $600m bank account, and claimed his royal status made him “untouchable”, while seeking further business connections and “investors”.
Like many other crooks, “Prince Khalid bin Al-Saud”, as he was calling himself, ended up being laid low by a small mistake – in his case, a humble ham sandwich, notes Ashley Collman in the Daily Mail. Having reached out to Jeffrey Soffer of Turnberry Associates to make a $440m investment in Miami’s Fontainebleau resort”, Gignac was flown on the tycoon’s private jet to Aspen. Soffer started to grow suspicious when he saw “the man who claimed he was Muslim eating dishes containing pork”. After Soffer’s security team investigated they “confirmed that he was a fraud”. Soffer then “turned over what he had found out on Gignac to federal authorities, who initiated their own investigation”.
Afterwards, the feds raided his apartment and found “business cards under his many aliases, more fraudulent diplomatic licence plates, a fake diplomatic security badge, unauthorised credit cards, thousands of dollars in cash, and financial documents in the name of a member of the Saudi royal family”. Gignac pleaded guilty in May to charges including impersonating a foreign diplomat or government official, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit fraud. In July, he reversed his plea, and he now faces trial in January.
Tabloid money… a £1.6m spending spree in Harrods
• Holly Willoughby has stepped away from her home-fashion-baby-wellness range, Truly, days before it was due to launch, says Jennifer Selway in the Daily Express. On social media the television presenter said that she wanted to focus on “family time at home”. Right you are, Holly. Perhaps she’s having second thoughts about the wisdom of launching a celebrity brand and I don’t blame her.
After all, Victoria Beckham’s designs are praised by fashionistas, yet she made losses of £8.5m last year. Samantha Cameron’s Cefinn range received oodles of positive PR, but lost £561,795 in its first 12 months. And can Gwyneth Paltrow’s new shop Goop survive the hostile chill of the British retail climate? I wouldn’t put money on it.
• Working mums have become the norm, which is great, says Karren Brady in the Sun on Sunday. But there’s still that little matter of the gender pay gap – women being paid less to do the same job as men. In sectors such as insurance and finance, the gender pay gap is more than 40%. The problem is partly one of expectation. Take Zoë Ball, Chris Evans’s replacement on the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, for example.
“I’m not being paid as much as Chris… but I’m happy,” Ball said. Yes, £1.6m, which is what Evans was on, is a massive salary and, yes, I’m sure Zoë will still be paid handsomely. But her attitude mirrors that of many women who just accept that they will be paid less, and don’t kick up enough of a fuss.
• Wealthy foreign individuals suspected of being connected to serious crime are now served with Unexplained Wealth Orders and must explain to the National Crime Agency where they got the money to fund their lifestyles, says Jan Moir in the Daily Mail. Holy helicopter pads! In the fine homes of Knightsbridge and Mayfair, more than a few oligarchs’ wives must be trembling in their diamond-soled Louboutins.
But pity the wife of one banker, who, it has been revealed, spent £1.6m a year in Harrods. I mean, imagine having all that money, but so little imagination that you spend all your time wandering around that department store’s marble halls, picking up a pound of beluga, a grand piano or a crystal bath on a whim.