A young social media star was deported from Dubai and accused of using his followers to defraud the French state program for helping small entrepreneurs survive amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like many influencers on social media, 24-year-old Frenchman Paul Antony did his best to project an image of success and wealth on Instagram and Snapchat, posting photos of himself standing next to luxury cars in exotic locations.
According to Le Parisien, the man was deported from Dubai to Paris in late August and currently resides behind bars, while authorities are investigating him for fraud and money laundering. A person believed to be one of Antony’s accomplices has also reportedly been imprisoned.
Antony was said to have abused the French state aid program designed to help self-employed people struggling with a loss of income during the Covid-19 pandemic. The man allegedly instructed his many online followers to provide personal information, which he would then use to apply for aid on their behalf. While doing so, Antony reportedly lied about people’s jobs and previous income levels, and pocketed between 30% and 50% of the funds received.
Le Parisien said tax officials discovered Antony’s hustle when he helped an Uber Eats delivery man receive €16,000 ($18,720) after applying for assistance as someone who had worked in the field of performance art.
Between Snapchat and Instagram, Antony had more than 62,000 subscribers.
Overall, Antony allegedly helped 657 people falsely request €22 million ($25.7 million) in aid, out of which around €5,8 million ($6.7 million) was actually granted by the state. Some of Antony’s clients later claimed they were unaware such a scheme was illegal.
The Frenchman’s scheme is far from the first time scammers have attempted to defraud Covid-19 relief programs for personal gain. In the US, one couple was convicted of stealing $18 million in relief funds, apparently using the money to put down payments on homes and buy luxury jewelry and clothing. The pair are now on the run, having cut off their ankle monitors, according to the FBI.