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Swagg Man: French-Tunisian influencer, rapper... and scammer?

Social media personality charged with extorting $1.6m from his fans is now exonerated by an old money-laundering charge.
Tunisian-French rapper Swagg Man, who is known for Louis Vuitton logos tattooed on his bald head, during an interview with a television station in Tunis on 11 May, 2019 (AFP)
French-Tunisian rapper Swagg Man, whose real name is Iteb Zaibet, appears on a television interview in Tunis on 11 May 2019 (AFP)
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Tunis

Disgust and loathing. These are pretty much the unanimous feelings inspired by Iteb Zaibet, alias Swagg Man, among his 21 alleged victims of fraud.

The French-Tunisian rapper, whose real name is Iteb Zaibet and who was born in Nice, is known for the Louis Vuitton monograms tattooed on his head and an ultra-blingy lifestyle constantly flaunted on social media.

Portraying himself as an orphan and self-made millionaire, Swagg Mann quickly became an internet and television celebrity in both France and Tunisia.

But in July 2019, at the height of his fame, the rapper was arrested in Tunisia in connection with suspect money transfers on a Swiss bank account as well as on charges of defrauding social media fans. He was remanded in custody in a Tunisian prison.

In March 2021, Zaibet was sentenced to five years in jail for fraud and money laundering, standing accused of having extorted euros 1.5m ($1.6m) between 2014 and 2018.

At the time, a Tunis court also fined Zaibet 100,000 dinars ($36,000), after funds of about $6m in euros and Swiss francs were confiscated from his accounts.

Swagg Man's former fans had hoped the fraud trial in Tunisia would bring an end to the alleged scams of the influencer. With the country's penalties being cumulative, Zaibet risked up to 100 years in prison.

However, on appeal on 13 January 2022, the Tunisian judge dismissed the case, basing the decision on a 2018 service agreement between Zaibet and a certain David S.

A month later, Zaibet's arrest warrant in France was also withdrawn due to insufficient evidence to indict him for fraud. 

"I want to say that any person or any media accusing me of fraud or other will be pursued relentlessly in defamation!" he wrote on Instagram in February, posing alongside his French lawyer.

Iteb Zaibet had been exonerated, and Swagg Man is back on social media continuing where he had left off - flaunting wealth.

Fans scorned

'The guy had over two million followers on Facebook. He flaunted his millionaire lifestyle in Miami... I trusted him'

- Pierre*, claimant in the Swagg Man fraud case

More than seven years after the alleged fraud perpetrated by Zaibet, Pierre* has no words harsh enough to describe the accused.

An orphan with a younger brother to care for, the 30-year-old spoke to Middle East Eye about how he was first contacted by Swagg Man on social media on 8 December 2014.

"He was hard on himself. I felt sorry for him, particularly since he said he was an orphan as well. I didn't look any further. I didn't know his music and had zero interest in his flashy style," recalled the industrial sector employee, who said he was surprised when the artist messaged him directly.

In reality, Iteb Zaibet is not an orphan. MEE spoke with his father, who lives in Tunisia, but he refused to make any comment.

Over the course of their exchange, Pierre thought Swagg Man's real name was Rayan Sanches, and he told the rapper about his dream: to buy back the house where his grandmother lived.

Pierre had saved up a deposit of 25,000 euros ($27,000) for the house. Swagg Man offered to invest the fund, and promised to triple the return in just two weeks. 

"The guy had more than two million followers on Facebook. He flaunted a millionaire lifestyle in Miami. He promised that if there was a problem, he'd refund me, that 25,000 euros was nothing to him. I trusted him," said Pierre.

Finally, during a meeting in Paris on 16 December 2014, Pierre handed over 25,000 euros in cash to the accused.

The next day, he saw his stack of cash on an NRJ radio show on YouTube. To impress the presenter, Swagg Man was seen pulling out an envelope containing 40 500-euro notes and 50 100-euro notes.

"It was my money! The envelope, the purple elastic band around the 500-euro notes... I recognised it," said Pierre, his anger still apparent seven years on.

For about a year, the two men continued to talk on social media. Swagg Man managed to convince him to pay almost another $10,000 to cover taxes payable on the profits generated by Pierre's first payment.

On the instruction of Rayan Sanches, Pierre transferred the money via Western Union to Miami to a certain Iteb Zaibet: "He told me it was one of his employees."

During the investigation, Pierre came face to face with Swagg Man at the police station. Swagg Man claimed that he had never seen the claimant before.

Cryptocurrency

Swagg Man was an idol for Imad*. So when Swagg-Man told his two million fans to sign up on the website Mycryptofly.com (which has since been taken down) to make easy money on cryptocurrency, the young Algerian set aside his reservations and invested $12,000, money he had saved up for his education among other things.

Iteb Zaibet had convinced Imad to send him his Bitcoins so he could turn a faster profit on them. Imad never saw his bitcoins again.

Nowadays, the 20-year-old Algerian doesn't like to talk about what happened. He prefers to focus on the future, certain that "God will punish Swagg Man".

'We spent holidays together in luxury hotels where Swagg Man filmed himself constantly for his fans. We ate in top restaurants.'

- Eric*, alleged fraud victim

Over the course of our investigation, MEE discovered that Iteb Zaibet was also behind a US cryptocurrency company,  Genesis Mining Crypto Inc, which he set up on 20 November 2017 and dissolved on 28 September 2018.

Complainants at his trial in Tunisia claimed they were victims of this company.

While the majority of the complainants came from disadvantaged backgrounds - one third of them were orphans - there were also a number of wealthy individuals, including a trader who lost $865,000 and a French couple who had been based in Tunisia for more than 20 years.

The couple, who were not among the complainants in the fraud trial, said they had lost more than $2m.

"Rayan and Lolita [the influencer's girlfriend] were like our children," said Eric*, the husband. "We spent holidays together in luxury hotels where Swagg Man filmed himself constantly for his fans. We ate at top restaurants."

They trusted Swagg Man enough for Eric, among others, to agree to invest $1.7m in a property project in Miami that never even got off the ground.

"Western Union, cryptocurrency, property deals, these are classic scams," said Helmi Rezgui, a lawyer representing the complainants. "They're not very sophisticated. His money laundering affairs though, are quite something else. The structure is complex by comparison."

The case of Stefano B

In March 2021, Iteb Zaibet was sentenced to five years in prison by the court of first instance of Tunis for money laundering and fraud.

The case dates back to events in Lugano during the Christmas holidays of 2018, at a branch of Raiffeisen, the third-largest Swiss bank. An employee, Stefano B, transferred $8.73m out of several his clients' accounts to a company in the US, and over $5.7m in euros to the private account of an individual in Tunisia.

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He then fled to Panama, planning to pick up his money in bitcoins, as arranged with an accomplice he met on the dark web.

Contrary to expectations, on 24 December, one of his victims noticed a suspicious transfer of $3m. She alerted Raiffeisen. The transfers were blocked.

In a state of panic, Stephano B went to the Swiss consulate in Panama to give himself up. Two years later, a Swiss court sentenced the repentant employee to five-and-a-half years in prison.

The Tunisian account belonged to Iteb Zaibet, while the US account was held in the name of Luxury Properties Inc, a high-end real estate company managed by Iteb Zaibet and his girlfriend, Lolita Rebulard.

On these grounds, Swagg Man was remanded in custody in July 2019 in a Tunisian prison, before being sentenced in 2021. However, on appeal on 13 January 2022, the judge dismissed the case, exonerating Iteb Zaibet.

The court based this decision on a service agreement and an exchange of emails between 12 and 27 December 2018, between Iteb Zaibet and a certain David S.

A villa in Miami         

From the transcription of the 30 messages, it emerges that David S put two deals on the table: locating a villa in Miami for a wealthy Swiss banker who was ready to go ahead and buy it without viewing it; and procuring two agricultural loading machines that Iteb Zaibet would sell on to an Italian company based in Switzerland, Scavi Robbiani (whose account was one of the ones hacked by Stefano B).

The service agreement set down the terms under which, having bought the two machines, the company Scavi Robbiani undertook to buy them from him for $5.7m.

According to the court of appeal, the transfers to the company Luxury Properties therefore corresponded to the sale of the villa, and the funds sent to the account were the product of the services agreement signed with Scavi Robbiani.

In other words, the version upheld is that Stefano B's accomplice, whom he found on the dark web, was David S, not Iteb Zaibet.

Red flags

Right from the outset, Iteb Zaibet has denied knowing or having done business with Stefano B. Yet documents that MEE has seen raise many questions.

In these emails, the French word for December - décembre - is written with a capital "D" and no accent, differing from the standard format of Gmail, the message platform used.

The agreement starts in English with "Delivery Agreement," before switching into flawed French. The date "19 Decembre 2018" (typeset in the same format as the email exchange) in the body of the text mysteriously becomes "19 Decembre 2019" at the bottom of the page at signature level.

In this same document, Luxury Properties Inc is for no apparent reason renamed Luxurious Properties Inc. This begs the question: is it likely that this company Luxury Properties Inc, set up on 29 November 2018 would, within a month, already have a luxury villa on its books? Or is this company the ideal vehicle through which to buy two agricultural machines for a company based in Switzerland?

Banking Secrecy 

In the documents, Iteb Zaibet names the business through which he bought the grain pumps before selling them to Scavi Robbiani.

Contacted by MEE, this European machine tool manufacturer stated that "it had never done business with Mr Zaibet or Ms Lolita R, nor the company Luxury Properties Inc". 

"Our clients for this type of machinery are industrial or port maintenance companies or ministries of agriculture, and never real estate companies. Moreover, these machines cost between 200,000 and 500,000 euros [$216,000 to $540,000], depending on their configuration," it stated.

This company was the only party willing to talk to us. Neither Iteb Zaibet, nor his Tunisian lawyer wanted to be interviewed. Even the alleged victims remain tight-lipped.

Scavi Robbiani said it was "not interested" in commenting. According to MME's information, the company didn't wish to revisit the matter having been reimbursed by the bank.

Swiss bank Raiffeisen, for its part, responded with a cryptic email: "Banking secrecy prohibits Raiffeisen from commenting on individual cases. This answer should be understood as general information that cannot in any circumstances constitute the basis for concluding on the existence or otherwise of a business relationship with Raiffeisen Bank."

'Even writers on a Netflix series would find such lies too unbelievable to use!’

- Tarak Cheikh-Rouhou, Tunisian strategy consultant

Federico Storni, a journalist at the Swiss newspaper Corriere del Ticino, which covered the Raiffeisen fraud case, spoke of the case with some amazement.

"The Tunis court of appeal ruling seems quite surreal. In the summer of 2021, I interviewed the Swiss public minister on the possible innocence of Swagg Man, and their response was: 'His involvement in the crime is clear'. The creation of Luxury Properties Inc corresponds exactly to the period when Stefano planned his actions."

Since 16 November 2018, an enquiry has also been underway in France into Iteb Zaibet and other persons for breach of trust, fraud, fakes and forgeries.

In 2019, a Tunisian strategy consultant named Tarak Cheikh-Rouhou set up the Swag-Auxilium website to help Zaibet's fraud victims to bring their case to court in Tunisia. However, in September 2021, Zaibet filed a complaint against the consultant for attempted blackmail.

Cheikh-Rouhou is certain that the evidence on which the Tunis court of appeal based its judgement was a lie. "Even writers on a Netflix series would find such lies too unbelievable to use!"

On 14 March, he filed a complaint with the public prosecutor of Tunis for "falsification of documents in a money laundering case".

* Names have been changed. This article is a translation of a story originally published on Middle East Eye’s French website.