UK & World News
French Aristocrats Conned Out Of £3.6m Fortune
A man described as a "modern-day Rasputin" has been jailed for brainwashing an aristocratic French family and swindling them out of a £3.6m fortune.
Thierry Tilly became a confidant of the landed Vedrines family in 2000 and over nine years persuaded 11 family members, aged between 16 and 89, into believing there was a secret masonic plot against their lives.
They were so convinced by his story, believing him to be a Nato "master spy", that they locked themselves inside their chateau for several years, terrified they would be killed.
They sold their possessions, including the family's turreted manor, and handed over £3.6m.
The money was then said to have been poured into a fake Canadian charity that Tilly claimed was set up to pay the Vedrines' "protectors".
So convincing were the stories of Oxford-based Tilly - who was dubbed "the guru" and the "Leonardo da Vinci of mental manipulation" - that eight of the family members, including a doctor, moved to the English city and worked in low-paid jobs to be where Tilly was based.
Tilly, who was born in France, was convicted of arbitrary detention, using violence against vulnerable people and abusing people weakened by "psychological subjection.". He was sentenced to eight years in prison by the court in Bordeaux.
Christine de Vedrines, who first alerted the police to Tilly's grip on the family, said: "Eight years is a small price to pay for what he did to our family and children. The trial is behind us and we will do everything to rebuild."
Tilly's accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, was sentenced to four years in prison.
Tilly's lawyer had argued that the family, from the 13th-century village of Monflanquin in southwestern France, had acted willingly.
Alexandre Novion said: "These 11 family members aren't ill, they have their feet on the ground, a level of self-awareness. Eleven people manipulated by mysterious forces by a single man? The legal basis for the case is weak."
Tilly claimed in court he was a member of the Habsburg dynasty, that he once almost played football for Marseille, and that he knew former French President Francois Mitterrand. He has been deemed mentally sound.
Tilly remained defiant despite the conviction, and said he was a British citizen and would take his case to the European Court of Justice.