Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Thursday, 3 July 2008 18:03 UK

Jail sentence for bogus countess

Scales of Justice
Beguinua, 63, was jailed for a similar fraud 11 years ago

A fake countess who lied about needing money to access her "staggeringly vast" wealth to obtain her victims' life savings has been jailed for five years.

Elda Beguinua's wealth was supposedly so vast its value could only be described in court as "300 followed by 41 zeros", Southwark Crown Court heard.

She also claimed to be related to the Hapsburg and Bourbon royal dynasties.

The 63-year-old, from Woodwarde Road, Dulwich, south-east London, was convicted of seven counts of deception.

Bodyguards and cooks

She also insisted that her fortune included two million tonnes of gold.

She knew this was 57 times the total mined worldwide for the last 150 years and it was "nothing but a ridiculous, make-believe amount", but it did not bother her in the slightest, jurors heard.

"She doesn't do things by halves," said Jenny Goldring, prosecuting.

"If she is going to practise a fraud on people, the bigger the better."

Born in the Philippines, she first came to Britain 20 years ago, and surrounded herself with trusting "adherents" who she began to con, the court heard.

She explained she needed their cash to support "guardians" and pay lawyers to release her alleged wealth.

'Terrific memory'

She soon had enough for a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, a couple of bodyguards and, despite cooks and maids at home, frequent trips to expensive restaurants.

Her vulnerable victims and another who escaped her clutches were surprisingly complimentary about her in court.

They described her as having "terrific memory and a good knowledge on most subjects" as well as "easy to be with, made you feel she was something special, a great lady, strong personality, passionate".

Beguinua, a twice-married mother-of-two was known to some of her victims as the Contessa de Avila.

Others knew here as the Baroness Beguinua - a partly Scottish-based title she bought in 1995 as "it is kind of beautiful to listen to when you are being called such", the court heard.

She was convicted of a similar offence in 1997 when she claimed title to 80,000 tonnes of gold, which, had it existed, would have been worth one trillion US dollars.

According to her the bullion belonged to the "illegitimate children" of Ferdinand Marcos, the late president of the Philippines.

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