French fraudster swindles aristocrats out of house and fortune

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 3:52am

An alleged modern-day Rasputin was convicted yesterday of brainwashing three generations of an aristocratic French family for nearly a decade, swindling them of their fortune and their turreted manor.

Thierry Tilly, who was sentenced to eight years in prison by a court in Bordeaux, became a confidante of the landed Vedrines family in 2000 in a case has riveted and shocked the nation.

Over nine years, the man who local media dubbed "the guru" used manipulation techniques to convince the family of 11 - aged from 16 to 89 - of a secret plot against their lives, according to court testimony.

The family was so convinced they locked themselves inside their chateau for several years, terrified they would be killed. They sold off their possessions - including the family manor - and handed over 4.5 million euros (HK$44.35 million) to Tilly.

French media reported that the money was poured into a fake Canadian charity that Tilly claimed was set up to pay the Vedrines' "protectors".

"Eight years is a small price to pay for what he did to our family and children," Christine de Vedrines, who first alerted police to Tilly's actions, said. "The trial is behind us and we will do everything to rebuild."

Tilly's accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Despite the conviction, Tilly remained defiant, invoking his right as a British citizen and saying he would take his case to the European Court of Justice.

Tilly's lawyer had argued that the family from southwestern France acted willingly.