THE BARE-FACED CONTESSA

A bogus contessa who claimed to be worth trillions of dollars to fleece naïve investors out of a fortune has been ordered to pay back the cash or face another three-and-a-half years in jail.

Convicted fraudster Elda Beguinua, 63, was jailed for five years after claiming she was an aristocrat heir to a treasure trove of gold bullion.

She wove an elaborate fairytale of sunken ships and golden nuggets to persuade dupes to help her release the first £250 million instalment of her fortune.

They never saw their cash again.

Beguinua, who said she was worth ‘300 followed by 41 noughts’, was convicted of string of fraud charges in July last year at Southwark Crown Court.

But despite having served just over six months of her sentence the glamorous grandmother still protested her innocence during a confiscation hearing.

Giving evidence today (mon) she asked Judge Jeremy McMullen QC to give her time to produce documents proving the fortune was real.

She said: ‘I am really begging. Give me time, if I don’t come up with it, put me inside forever or kill me.’

Following a lengthy inquiry into her assets Judge McMullen today (Mon) ruled Beguinua pocketed just over £1million from her victims.

He ordered she must pay back £848,736 from her ‘realisable assets.’

Judge McMullen said: ‘It will be recalled in that hearing she herself acknowledged she was a number one fraudster and should be in the Guinness Book of Records.

‘It is certainly part of her mindset that she convinces others she has a substantial fortune.

‘When she tells me there are 22 caves in the Philippines guarded by 10,000 workers, guarding a treasure of trillions of pounds in precious gems and gold I do not believe her. I do not believe any part of that.

‘She is oblivious to the implication of the jury’s verdict that there is no fortune and no-one there to look after it.

‘The jury clearly did not believe her. Neither do I.’

The judge continued: ‘I also do not believe her when she says money is being sent from London or anywhere else in order to pay for food for – as she described it – illiterate, barefoot peasants controlled by greedy generals to look after the treasure.’

Judge McMullen said the £1,036,761 she had received from victims and her band of loyal supporters amounted to ‘tainted criminal benefit’.

He gave her 12 months to pay back the cash or serve a further three-and-a-half years in prison in default.

Beguinua was given a two-year jail sentence in 1997 after trying to defraud banks of £16 trillion claiming she owned 80,000 tonnes of gold – more than has been mined in the past 150 years.

Following her release from prison, between 2003 and 2004 she used the aliases Dr de Avila and Contessa Beguinua, to swindle £21,000.

During her two trials in 1998 and last year, Beguinua claimed she was the great great great granddaughter of a Spanish nobleman, who was ousted by the conquistadors in the 1300s and had escaped to the Philippines with shiploads of gold bullion.

According to Beguinua – who lived in a rented semi in southeast London – the treasure was buried in caves in her native country guarded by former soldiers.

She also had hundreds of millions of dollars languishing in ’57 banks in 33 countries’.

The glamorous Filipino hooked her victims by claiming she would use her vast wealth to fund humanitarian projects in the third world.

Barbara Solon parted with £5,000 after agreeing to help Beguinua secure her fortune and Bernard Cockton, who gave up a job as a senior construction engineer to work for Beguinua, handed over £16,000.

The final dupe, William Johnson, was offered a £500,000 job as a ‘world ambassador’ by the ‘Barefaced Contessa.’

Mr Johnson finally confronted Beguinua telling her he knew of her criminal past when she asked him for £50,000.

Officers searching her house found a wardrobe full of bogus documents which included letters claiming she was heir to a massive fortune and had 100 tonnes of gold bullion.

A letter addressed to billionaire steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal asked if he would sell her his £85million Kensington Palace home because she ‘must have it’.

Another letter revealed her wish to make Harrods’ owner Mohammed Fayed ‘an offer he could not refuse’ for the world famous department store.

But brazen Beguinua told the court she is a wealthy heiress and will prove her doubters wrong when her fortune arrives.

Beguinua, of 129 Woodward Road, Dulwich, was found guilty of two counts of obtaining services by deception, five counts of obtaining property by deception, attempting to obtain property by deception and two counts of removing criminal property from England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland between February 14 and July 3 2004.

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