Asia

Italian George Clooney fraudsters arrested in Thailand

This handout from the Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police taken on June 15, 2019 and released on June 16, 2019 shows Italian national Francesco Galdelli (C) after he was arrested on the outskirts of Pattaya. Image copyright CRIME SUPPRESSION DIVISION/ ROYAL THAI POLICE
Image caption The two were arrested on the outskirts of Pattaya in Thailand

An Italian man accused of posing as George Clooney to promote a clothing label has been arrested with his wife in Thailand after years on the run.

Francesco Galdelli, 58, and Vanja Goffi, 45, had been wanted on an Interpol red notice since 2013.

The US actor sued them, and in a 2010 trial in Italy testified against them, saying they had fraudulently used his name to advertise a fashion business.

They are also accused of a series of other scams and frauds in Italy.

The couple fled their home country to avoid arrest and had been dubbed the Italian Bonnie and Clyde after the notorious US bank robbers.

They sustained their life in Thailand with an online scheme selling fake Rolex watches, reportedly posting some buyers small packets of salt instead of the expensive timepieces.

Image copyright CRIME SUPPRESSION DIVISION/ ROYAL THAI POLICE
Image caption According to police, the accused admitted to using Mr Clooney's name

Police said the couple would be charged for overstaying their visas before any extradition proceedings took place.

How were they found and arrested?

The two were arrested on Saturday in a joint operation of Thai and Italian authorities on the outskirts of the Thai city of Pattaya, Thailand's Crime Suppression Division said on Sunday.

Police surrounded a luxury villa, where the pair had taken refuge after they were located in a surveillance operation involving a drone, before breaking in and detaining them.

"During interrogation, Francesco confessed to claiming to be George Clooney and opening a clothes business to trick people into sending money," AFP news agency reported, citing Thai police.

The pair had been living in Thailand since 2014, authorities said. Mr Galdelli was arrested that same year, but escaped custody during his trial.

A subsequent investigation, made at the request of Italy, found that Mr Galdelli had paid prison guards 20,000 Thai baht (€570, £500) before slipping away, according to Italian media.

What is the Clooney case about?

The couple, who have been described in Italy as "expert scammers", launched a clothing line called GC and specialised in private sales to individuals, purporting to have Mr Clooney's endorsement - even displaying his signature.

The pair were later accused of using doctored photographs of themselves with the famous Hollywood actor at a number of events to promote their products.

During his court appearance in Milan in 2010, Mr Clooney said the couple had forged his signature and that he wanted to testify "because I believe in the judicial system".

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Media captionGeorge Clooney attends an Italian court in 2010

As part of his 90-minute testimony, he said he did not endorse the couple's fashion business and that it was not him in the pictures shown.

"I don't smoke, I don't have this watch and I don't wear those pin-up pants," he said.

"These people are using my name, not to cheat me, but [to cheat] other people," Mr Clooney is quoted as saying in a 2011 report in Italian newspaper La Repubblica (in Italian).

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