Gang tricks German into ‘buying’ US embassy

A group of con artists has gone on trial for allegedly tricking a German businessman out of €1.3 million, by pretending to sell him the US embassy and the UN food agency headquarters.

Gang tricks German into 'buying' US embassy
A policeman stands outside the US embassy in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Wolfang Kroll, 57, appeared in a Rome court along with three accomplices on Friday, Corriere della Sera reported.

The group stands accused of scamming a German businessman out of €1.3 million in 2008, in a series of fake business deals to buy key buildings in Rome.

Kroll, also German, presented himself as a real estate broker with prized property in his hands. He allegedly approached the businessman, a Monaco resident, by first offering to sell the Porta di Roma shopping centre.

With the help of Donato Perazzolo, a fake bank representative, Kroll was able to convince their victim to send €400,000 to buy the Rome complex.

When it came to buying up the US embassy building on Via Veneto, and the headquarters of the UN food agency, Fao, the con artists needed more help. Walter Baccini was brought in to impersonate a government official, while Anna Lisa Morganti is also accused of taking part in the scam.

The price of the embassy was set at €580,000, while Fao was supposedly on sale for €600,000. The German businessman transferred a further €900,000 to the group, before realizing he had been tricked.

The case has seen the gang’s leader dubbed the “Totò of Bavaria”, a nod to the Italian film Tototruffa 62 in which the main character sells Rome’s Trevi Fountain to an unsuspecting tourist.

Watch the film clip:

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Macron: ‘Vaccinated Americans should be able to travel to France this summer’

French president Emmanuel Macron says he hopes that Americans who have had the Covid vaccine will be able to travel to France this summer - after more than a year in which travel to France from the USA has been heavily restricted.

Macron: 'Vaccinated Americans should be able to travel to France this summer'
Photo: Kenzo Tribaullard/AFP

In an interview with the American news channel CBS, the president says that he hopes the ban on most travel from the USA – which has been in place since March 2020 – can be lifted this summer.

He said: “We will progressively lift the restrictions [in France] from the beginning of May, which means that we will organise in the summer time with our professionals in France for French European citizens, but as well for American citizens”.

The president made it clear that travel will likely be allowed, “especially for US citizens who are vaccinated, so with a special pass, I would say.”

For the past year travel into France from the US has only been allowed for ‘essential reasons’ which has ruled out visits from American second-home owners and made many family visits impossible.

“The idea is to offer travel to the American citizen when they decide to be vaccinated or with a negative PCR test” Macron clarified, “so the idea is to always control the virus, to maximise the vaccination, and to progressively lift the restrictions.”

France is currently battling a third wave of Covid cases, driven by new variants, and is under a ‘partial lockdown’ with limits on travel, shopping and socialising. However Macron said that he aims to begin reopening some parts of the country from mid May.

The French government is expected to announce a more detailed programme for reopening at the end of April.

Additionally, Macron told the Face the Nation programme that the country’s vaccine rollout is steadily progressing due to production increase.

European ‘health passports’ are also on the horizon, with Thierry Breton, head of the European Commission task force, last month claiming he hopes the continent will have a summer “comparable to last year.”

Discussions on the vaccine passports are ongoing, but it is likely that they will have provision for either a vaccination certificate or a negative Covid test.

For full details on the restrictions currently in place on travel into France from EU and non-EU countries, head to our Travelling to France section.