'Contessa' jailed for savings fraud

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To her victims she was the Contessa de Avila, a designer-clad woman of great charm and personality, a blonde with an exotic past and wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

But yesterday plain Elda Beguinua, 63, of Dulwich, south-east London, was jailed for five years at Southwark Crown Court in London for posing as the world's wealthiest heiress to dupe life savings out of the "vulnerable". She claimed to be descended from Spanish aristocracy and to have a "staggeringly vast" fortune.

Bernard Cockton, a senior construction engineer, was one of her victims. He fell for her promises of a £100,000 salary, gave up his well-paid job and handed over more than £17,000. A "deeply embarrassed" Mr Cockton said the defendant assured him the first £250m tranche of the treasure – said to have been left to her father by the former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos – was "imminent".

The court heard she sometimes introduced herself as Baroness Beguinua, a partly Scottish-based title she bought 13 years ago.

She was convicted of seven counts of deception, one attempted deception and two of removing criminal property from Britain.