Italian fraudsters wanted for masquerading as George Clooney arrested in Thailand

Giada Zampano
Francesco Galdelli (C) after he was arrested on the outskirts of Pattaya. An Italian who masqueraded as Hollywood superstar George Clooney to sell clothes online.  - AFP

An Italian who allegedly posed as Hollywood superstar George Clooney to sell clothes online has been arrested with his wife in Thailand after years on the run.

Francesco Galdelli, 58, and Vanya Goffi, 45, were arrested in the Thai resort of Pattaya, after policemen surrounded the luxury villa where they lived, far from the city’s tourist attractions and nightlife.

The pair specialized in a series of scams and frauds and had fled Italy in 2012 to avoid being arrested, earning themselves the nickname of Italy’s Bonnie & Clyde, the notorious American bank robbers of the Great Depression era.

"During interrogation, Francesco confessed to claiming to be George Clooney and opening a clothes business to trick people into sending money," a statement from Thailand's Crime Suppression Division said.

The couple is also wanted in Italy for multiple scams including selling fake Rolex watches online, the statement said. They sometimes mocked their victims by sending packets of salt instead of the timepieces.

Italy’s international police and the Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police finally succeeded in arresting the two on Sunday, after tailing them.

Francesco Galdelli (C) as he was arrested on the outskirts of Pattaya. Credit: AFP

The case against the pair stretches back several years after Mr Clooney told a Milan court that the pair - and another accomplice - had fraudulently used his name to promote a fashion range.

The couple used several figureheads in Pattaya and, thanks to their past fraudulent activities, enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Mr Galdelli was also known by the local community for being a generous man, having donated big sums of money to help children with HIV.

“He could be seen as a sort of Robin Hood,” said Andrea Vitalone, the security expert that led the international operation ended with the arrest.   

Mr Galdelli had already been arrested in July 2014 at Pattaya’s Dusit Thani Hotel. The day after his arrest, however, he managed to escape at the end of his first hearing.

After an internal investigation, local police found out that he had corrupted the prison guards paying them 20,000 Thai baht (around £500) to cover up his absconding.

The couple are now being detained at the detention center of the Immigration Bureau in Pattaya, waiting for the extradition procedures to be started, police said.