PARIS • French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has taken legal action after conmen impersonated him in a series of phonecalls with African leaders in a bid to obtain money.
According to the pan-African weekly Jeune Afrique which broke the story last Friday, several African presidents were contacted by someone posing as Mr Le Drian who claimed that French secret agents had been abducted by Islamist hardliners, but insisted the news be kept secret.
The caller then demanded that they, instead of France, pay a ransom of millions of euros into an offshore bank account because France's official policy bars payment of such demands.
In return, they would be reimbursed through French development aid, the caller claimed.
But nobody was fooled, with all of the officials making contact with Mr Le Drian's office.
There was no information about which African leaders had been targeted.
Known as "false transfer orders", such scams are well known to the French police who suspect the involvement of criminal networks in Israel, or Israelis of French origin who have tried to pull off similar scams by attempting to fool business executives or large accounting firms in order to extract large sums of money.
The hoax is almost always linked to the secret services in order to ensure the intended victim keeps the demand a secret and rapidly transfers the money to a numbered account.