Who is Cyril Astruc, the “Prince of Carbon” tracked and wanted by Interpol?

Stop me if you can!” The title of Steven Spielberg’s American film (2002) perfectly sums up the run of Cyril Astruc, alias Alex Khann, so far. So the latter dared to pose for a photo one day, wearing a t-shirt with the logo “Chase me if you can“, in the original version. But who really is this charming character, sometimes referred to as “funny“despite the seriousness of his crimes?

Wanted by Interpol and the police of several States, this individual with multiple identities is the subject of an international arrest warrant for fraud and money laundering in an organized gang.

They made us lose years in the fight for climate

In fact, Cyril Astruc and his accomplices in the “Carbon Mafia” embezzled several billion euros from the carbon tax – a system set up by the European Union to finance the fight against global warming. “They robbed the environmental bank, and they spent years fighting for the climate”, denounced a police officer from the Organized Crime Unit in Israel, who wanted to testify anonymously to journalists.

To understand what this is, we need to go back to the operation of the financial system. With the conclusion of the Kyoto protocol in 1997 aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, “it was decided to create a kind of ‘carbon exchange’, an ‘environmental Wall Street’ where quotas would be negotiated. The principle is simple. Companies have a quota, a few kilos of CO2 which they can release annually into the atmosphere. And if they do not reach this authorized quota, they can sell it on a stock exchange created for this purpose.”, summarized Fabrice Arfi, investigative journalist for Mediapart. “Heavy polluters can buy quotas from less polluters.”

A seemingly good process, except…”people manage to get away with it by setting up fictitious companies in tax havens to negotiate CO2 emission quotas”, explained the journalist. At stake,”hundreds of thousands of euros in profits every day.” But how do they do it? “Tax-free allowances can be purchased (excluding tax) abroad, then resell them to French companies with all taxes included (tax included), the VAT up front (usually) will be returned to the State – which has never been done”, referred to Emmanuel Dusch, Judicial Customs Officer – SEJF.

Scammers’ profits reach huge amounts. “In Europe, it is approx (…) to 5 billion euros”, continued the official. “Fraud killed the system in the first place. It is a system that is completely broken, and has no effect in ecological terms.

When Cyril Astruc’s name started coming up

In an attempt to eliminate the “masterminds” at the center of this “Heist of the Century”, French investigators first begin to follow the trail of companies that buy and then resell carbon credits, looking for the real sponsors. By asking the “hay managers” of these companies – grocers, retirees, gardeners… – Cyril Astruc’s name started to appear. Meanwhile, Belgian authorities have tracked down one Alex Khann. By cross-checking their information, the French and Belgian services realize that this is actually the same individual.

Meanwhile, Cyril Astruc led a relaxed existence in Israel, under a third alias, that of “Benny”. In this country, where he owns, among other things, rich properties, luxury boutiques, a racetrack, a nightclub and a bar, the scammer is photographed enjoying the company of Russian oligarch. “He has a chameleon side that is his strength, and explains why he finds himself at the top of the pyramid”, commented Emmanuel Dusch.

And the activity of Cyril Astruc – Alex Khann does not stop there. On the other side of the Atlantic, his name appears in the credits of B-movies such as NeoWolf (2011) as “producer”. But in 2012, Israeli authorities began to take an interest in his case. The triggering event is none other than a typical car accident involving a Ferrari. At the wheel of the car: Cyril Astruc himself. As discussions escalated after the collision, the police decided to arrest him.

The following year, his Israeli villa was raided. “There were two kinds of dogs at the entrance, a sign that we were not in anyone’s house. There is a whole series of luxury cars. We discovered a villa that could be a caricature of the ‘nouveau riche’s dream’, which we see on reality TV shows”, explained Nicolas Baïetto, former deputy prosecutor of the Paris prosecutor’s office. Gym, billiards, indoor lift, huge swimming pool, tennis court…”In total, there is for 15 million euros“, he believes.

Convicted and imprisoned in France, he fled

In 2014, French authorities intercepted “Prince du Carbone” when he arrived at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport from Israel, under the identity of Alex Khann. Brought to the financial center of Paris, he was received by Guillaume Daieff, then an examining magistrate at the tribunal de grande instance of Paris. “I have never seen that, neither have my colleagues. At one time there were 13 lawyers (around him),” he recalled.

Continuing to maintain his innocence in the case of carbon fraud, Cyril Astruc was placed in pre-trial detention at Fresnes prison. His fellow prisoners had access to the press where an article called him “the man worth ten million”, he was placed in solitary confinement, as a protective measure. He will remain behind bars for fifteen months, before being released under judicial supervision with a ban on leaving French territory, paying a deposit of 4 million euros for this.

On May 29, 2017, the trial of Cyril Astruc will begin in the so-called “Heist of the Century” case. The respondent will only appear there… on the first day. The investigators then decided to visit him at his known home. But sources in the building tell them the occupant is no longer there, and his furniture is gone. During this time, the court sentenced him to a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of two million euros and confiscation penalties – including his villa. At this time Interpol issued a “red notice”, which means an arrest warrant against him.

Where there’s money, there’s blood

In August 2017, Cyril Astruc, on the run, sent an email to French investigators. “Yes to pay, but not for a myth. Not for a fake legend”, he would write. Is he really afraid of his life? “However, there had been several murders in France regarding carbon cases, so he was rightly afraid”, Emmanuel Dusch acknowledges. In fact, at least seven men paid with their lives for their involvement in this fraud. “Where there’s money, there’s blood”, commented Fabrice Arfi of Mediapart.

If the search for the “Prince of carbon” has been going on for ten years now, the investigators are not deceiving themselves about where he has found refuge. “We think he is in Herzliya (Tel Aviv district, editor’s note)”, confided the judicial Customs official. “Mr. Astruc took the road from Paris to Monaco. He probably took a yacht to Tel Aviv”, an Israeli official confirmed anonymously. “Upon his arrival, he did everything to gain the protection of the mafia milieu”, he hinted.

To catch it, “it’s a matter of time”

Although Israel does not extradite its citizens – not even those who appear on the interpol red list, Cyril Astruc will continue to live in luxury… and even put on a show. “He is a funny guy. He laughs at us, but we will catch him”, assured Emmanuel Dusch. “Sooner or later, we will find him and arrest him. It is a question of time”, confirmed Bernard Petit, former deputy director of the French judicial police.

It took more than a year of talking about encrypted messaging before the “Prince of Carbon” finally agreed to meet with a reporter. A rare interview, filmed with a discreet camera, to discover in the first issue of the documentary series “Planet Killers” – dedicated to the worst environmental criminals and their hunt. Globally, environmental crime brings in an estimated $250 billion a year – making it one of the most lucrative deals.

Has : Planet Killers – The Carbon Princeairs on Monday, January 23 at 9 pm on France 5and in the replay to France.tv.

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