20-year-old fraudster embarrasses Spanish authorities by posing as bigwig

MADRID (AFP) - Police in Spain have arrested a 20-year-old alleged con man who embarrassed the establishment by posing as a bigwig and even got himself photographed shaking hands with the king.

Fresh-faced and curly-haired, the sharp-suited wheeler-dealer Francisco Nicolas Gomez Iglesias - known as "Little Nicholas" - has appeared in photos in the press alongside a string of top political figures.

His crowning exploit was to sneak uninvited into a reception for the proclamation of King Felipe VI in June, when he was photographed in suit and tie, bowing and shaking the monarch's hand.

Police arrested "Little Nicholas" last week, accusing him of passing himself off as a government advisor and asking a top businessman for a 25,000-euro (S$40,328) commission to act as a go-between in a real estate deal.

One person who had dealings with the suspect, Miguel Bernad of the far-right pressure group Manos Limpias, said Gomez had held a dozen meetings with him posing as a representative of the royal palace.

He said Gomez offered to mediate in a lawsuit the association is waging against the king's sister, Cristina.

"He seemed totally credible to me. He had cars, bodyguards. It didn't seem like a bluff," Bernad told AFP.

Gomez's lawyer Israel Paz said on the radio that his client "never impersonated anyone, because he always acted under his own name". Paz has since stopped talking to journalists about the affair.

- 'Delusional megalomanic' -

Among the personalities Little Nicholas has managed to rub shoulders with are Spain's conservative former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar and Rodrigo Rato, the former head of the International Monetary Fund.

He reportedly collected pictures of the meetings, publishing them on Facebook and showing them off to impress people and make contacts.

"The photographs were his tool. He turned up for business meetings with his photo album," according to El Mundo, one of the first newspapers to report on the affair.

In the case of the royal reception, the palace has insisted Gomez must have been brought in by one of the official guests, but it remains unclear who might be responsible.

It is also unclear how Gomez, who is reportedly from a modest family but studying law at a private university in Madrid, was able to swan around in elite circles without arousing suspicion.

The judge investigating the allegations against him wrote in a ruling that she "could not understand how a young man of 20, merely on the strength of his word... could get into those conferences, venues and functions without raising an alert."

A forensic medical report on Gomez said he had "a colourful, delusional, megalomaniac way of thinking".

- Public relations genius -

El Mundo said the young man started making contacts at the age of 15 in the think tank FAES, chaired by Aznar and run by the governing conservative Popular Party.

"This kid could handle public relations like no one else," the newspaper quoted Jaime Garcia-Legaz, currently Spain's junior trade minister, as saying.

"He offered to bring us all the best pupils from the best schools - and he delivered." Popular Party sources, however, denied that Gomez had any "official link" with it or its youth branch, New Generations.

Police compared Gomez to the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the US film "Catch Me If You Can", a real-life fraudster who swindled millions of dollars by posing in various guises.

On the day Gomez was detained, the police said on their official Twitter feed: "Arrested in Madrid: one fraudster in the 'Catch Me If You Can' mould, with chauffeur and fake police badges.

"He conned people saying he was a top official and an intelligence agent."