Alleged conman on trial for persuading French aristocrats to hide for eight years
The trial of two men accused of convincing a family of French aristocrats to hide for eight years and hand over millions of euros started in the western French city of Bordeaux on Monday. Thierry Tilly and Jacques Gonzalez are believed to have convinced the de Védrine family that they were the target of a plot by freemasons.
Tilly, 48, displayed the full richness of his imagination in court on the first day, claiming that he was a descendant of the Hapsburgs and that his grandmother was a communist friendly with former president François Mitterrand but denying the family’s claim that he had said he was a secret agent.
According to the de Védrines, Tilly convinced them to hide away in their château in the village of Monflanquin and then to flee to Oxford in the UK by telling them that a group of freemasons was plotting to wipe them out.
Freemasons are associated with anti-clerical and anti-monarchist sentiment in France.
Claiming to represent a Quebec-based charity and then to be an agent of Nato, he persuaded them to sell off property worth 4.5 million euros and hand the proceeds over to him.
Gonzalez, 65, who has had both legs amputated and is not due to appear in court until next Monday, is accused of masterminding the scam.
Thirteen members of the family were present in court.
Another member of the family, Guillemette de Védrine, died in 2010 at the age of 97.
A team headed by a criminologist and a psychoanalyst convinced them to return to France from Oxford in 2009 after one of them, Christine, ran away and went to the French police.
Christine claims to have been locked up for a week without food or sleep by the rest of the family, acting on Tilly’s orders, to persuade her to reveal the whereabouts of a supposed hidden treasure.
Her sister Ghislaine divorced her husband, Jean Marchand, but has since remarried him.
In court Tilly, who declared he was a Catholic, seemed contemptuous of the de Védrines, who are protestant, and claimed that the family’s flight was the work of one of the younger members of the family.
“I do ask myself ‘How could you have been taken in?’,” Ghislaine de Védrine told reporters on the first day of the trial.