'Guru' who conned French aristocrats out of £3.6m jailed

Fraudster convinced victims he was a  Nato masterspy sent to protect them
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A French guru and conman convicted of brainwashing and robbing three generations of an aristocratic family has claimed British citizenship in an attempt to avoid jail.

Thierry Tilly, who was based for many years in Oxford, was sentenced to eight years in prison by a French court for kidnapping, psychological subjection, fraud and abuse of the vulnerable. The court in Bordeaux heard last month that Tilly, 48, persuaded 11 members of the De Védrines family –from a nonagenarian grandmother to her teenage grandchildren – that he was a Nato “masterspy” and financial genius who alone could save them from an international conspiracy.

Under his influence, the De Védrines liquidated more than €4.5m of family assets and barricaded themselves inside the family chateau at Monflanquin, near Bordeaux, for six years before taking menial jobs in Oxford. The presiding judge, Marie-Elisabeth Bancal, said that Tilly and his accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, had organised a “Machiavellian plot”. Gonzalez was given a four-year jail sentence.

Tilly retorted: “You have convicted the French citizen but not the Englishman. We will see what European law says. This is only the beginning.” Tilly has not previously claimed British citizenship. Even if he does have a British passport, he remains subject to French law for crimes committed in France. During the trial last month, Tilly claimed to be descended from the Habsburgs and to be a former “hostage of freemasons”.

He insisted that the De Védrines family had acted willingly and that he had lost money while trying to help what he described as a “gang of resentful, greedy, provincial aristocrats”. Tilly’s lawyer asked for clemency on the grounds that he was “probably slightly deranged”.

Ghislaine Marchand (née De Védrines), 58, the first member of the family to meet Tilly, in 1999, told the court that he was a “liar and conman”.  “He kidnapped us by… turning us against one another,” she said. Tilly had claimed, she said, to “belong to a secret service above all the others, which could fix anything, and was in direct contact with the President of the United States”.

Tilly did not physically have to be present to control them, she said. He often gave orders by telephone or email. “We were scared of everyone and everything,” she said “We were so paranoid that we could no longer think straight.” In March 2009, Christine de Védrines, wife of Ghislaine’s brother, Charles-Henri, fled the group in Oxford and, with the help of local people and relatives, returned to France.

She told police that she had been tortured, physically and mentally, to force her to “unlock from her unconscious” the hiding place of a lost treasure.