When Cecilie Fjellhøy first met the person she knew as Simon Leviev for a 10am espresso date on the 4 Seasons Resort in London in January 2018, he appeared to align along with his Tinder profile. His photos have been flashy – designer garments and costly sun shades in luxurious automobiles and personal jets – and his in-person demeanor was equally debonair. “He has this magnetism,” Fjellhøy remembers of her first impression within the Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler, out this week. “There’s one thing about this man that’s particular.”
Fjellhøy, then a 29-year-old Norwegian graduate pupil dwelling in London, was charmed by the person who claimed to be the “prince of diamonds”, a billionaire inheritor to the diamond fortune of the Israeli magnate Lev Leviev. And she or he was shocked: Simon needed to go away that afternoon for a enterprise journey in Sofia, Bulgaria. Would she wish to go together with him by way of personal jet? She agreed – “I felt I might be silly if I mentioned no,” she says – and the movie, directed by Felicity Morris, stitches collectively the journey by the documentation on Fjellhøy’s telephone. There’s a “Yolo” WhatsApp message to her associates; photographs of Leviev’s safety staff aboard the personal jet; video of the girl and toddler Leviev mentioned have been his ex and baby, and one through which Fjellhøy kisses him on the cheek. They spent the night time collectively within the lodge, and she or he flew again to London the subsequent day, smitten with the person with whom she started exchanging messages each day.
This being referred to as The Tinder Swindler, it’s not a fortunately ever after; it could take Fjellhøy months, $250,000 in unpaid loans, and an investigative staff from Norway’s largest paper to determine it out, however nothing Leviev mentioned or did was truthful. The bodyguard? A employed poser. The jet? Paid for by one other swindled lady’s cash. The lady Leviev mentioned was his ex, who assured Fjellhøy he was a stand-up man? One in every of three girls he had swindled in Finland earlier than he was convicted and imprisoned there in 2015, who nonetheless related to him for causes that stay unclear (she declined to take part within the movie). Even the title Simon Leviev was a dodge; the “Simon <3” in her telephone was really a serial catfisher and conman born Shimon Yehuda Hayut to a middle-class Jewish orthodox household in suburban Israel – no billionaire father. (In 2017, upon launch from the Finnish jail, he legally modified his title to Simon Leviev.)
“This isn’t simply catfishing – that is catfishing on a complete different stage,” Morris instructed the Guardian. “There’s not the crimson flags you assume there are in these tales.”
“We’re all a bit bit responsible of gold-plating our lives, whether or not or not it’s on Instagram or what have you ever,” she added. “However Simon, if you meet him, every thing stacks up.” For Fjellhøy and the 2 different girls who inform their tales within the movie – Pernilla Sjoholm, from Sweden, and Ayleen Charlotte from Amsterdam – in addition to others who haven’t come ahead, “it’s virtually like they enter a Truman Present, being performed out for them, the place he’s obtained a bodyguard, he does really fly round in a personal jet,” mentioned Morris.
For many of its first half, the almost two-hour movie weaves Fjellhøy’s first-person account with Sjoholm’s, who met Leivev on Tinder in March 2018. Their connection was initially romantic however changed into a deep friendship; Leviev introduced alongside Sjoholm on journeys to Mykonos, Rome and elsewhere with different Tinder dates, and the 2 messaged constantly for eight months. As Leviev partied lavishly with Sjoholm, Fjellhøy was wanting, at his request, for London flats to hire collectively. Three months into courting, she acquired disturbing photographs of Leviev and his bodyguard lined in blood, and a request for $25,000 – in accordance with Leviev, his enemies have been tracing his bank card funds. Fjellhøy had no motive to doubt her boyfriend can be good for the cash, and who else was nearer to him? She took out bank cards, loans and extra loans for extra requests, as Leviev repeatedly assured her that fee would come by the subsequent day, then the subsequent.
It didn’t. Fjellhøy had been tricked, fallout from which rains all through the second half of the movie, as she hyperlinks up with journalists on the Norwegian paper VG, and finally Sjoholm and Charlotte, to unravel Leviev’s lengthy historical past of cons courting again to his teenage years in Israel. (VG’s investigative piece, that includes messages, voice notes and video that’s labored into the movie, was revealed in 2019.) Shedding the cash and credit score was dangerous sufficient, however dropping the person she thought cared about her – the boyfriend who despatched her roses and doting voice notes, the one who made a shock last-minute journey to Oslo to see her – was a worse intestine punch. The con was as a lot emotional as monetary.
Leviev “wasn’t being a sort of James Bond character with these women”, mentioned Morris. “Sure he’d ship them flowers, and he’d bear in mind their birthday, and he’d be actually candy, but it surely wasn’t like they have been getting something. He wasn’t giving them designer purses or wonderful holidays. He was only a very constant, loving boyfriend.” The conventional crimson flags or hiccups – not texting again, ghosting, lack of curiosity – didn’t apply to Simon, and the bar for courting was so low that this in and of itself was outstanding. “Simon was the right man for these girls,” mentioned Morris, “and that wasn’t in a fabric approach. That was in an emotional approach.”
“We’ve all grown up on this food plan of romcom films and the concept of discovering the love of your life, your Prince Charming, to brush you off your toes,” mentioned Morris, who works in clips from traditional Hollywood romances into the movie. “I positively assume that Simon performs on that.”
The ultimate part of the movie, which merely have to be seen to be absolutely appreciated and strikes past the scope of the VG story, works in testimony and comeuppance from Charlotte, who dated Leviev for 18 months and likewise loaned him important quantities of cash that was by no means repaid. Morris stitches collectively VG’s investigations, Charlotte’s recollections, and menacing voice and textual content messages from Leviev to disclose a vindictive pathological liar lastly snagged by his previous. It’s because of all three girls that he was arrested in 2019 in Greece and extradited to Israel; he was sentenced to fifteen months in jail for theft and fraud expenses he skipped out on in 2011, and launched after 5 months attributable to good conduct.
Simon Leviev, as he’s nonetheless legally named (his now-private Instagram account, @simon_leviev_official, at the moment has 97,500 followers, bot proportion unknown), declined to formally take part within the movie, although he did reply to WhatsApp messages from the Morris’s staff. There was a “back-and-forth between us and varied attorneys that he had employed for us to talk to”, mentioned Morris, however “an interview by no means materialized.” Leviev, nonetheless, did ship voice notes which are included within the movie through which he denies all the ladies’s claims of fraud and threatens authorized motion.
Regardless of the title, The Tinder Swindler just isn’t really that a lot about Tinder, or a warning towards the perils of on-line courting. “We’re not saying that individuals shouldn’t use courting apps,” mentioned Morris. “We’re not saying that individuals ought to be extra cautious than they’re, as a result of most individuals are cautious.” As an alternative, the message is extra certainly one of perseverance by gaslighting, monetary spoil and the concern of judgment. Fjellhøy, Sjoholm and Charlotte knew the response and skepticism that will come from talking out, but “they’ve been courageous sufficient to say effectively, really, the one possible way that we’re going to get justice is to show him,” mentioned Morris.
That justice, if not in jail time or monetary restitution, can come by a public file. The very first thing you do with a Tinder match is Google them, says Fejllhøy, who remains to be on the app, on the finish of the movie. And the outcomes for Simon Leviev? Pages on pages of articles unraveling his lies.