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Fraudster faked will to con charity out of 'colossal' sum

Paul Coppola forged his relative's signature despite receiving £100,000 legacy.

Will: Crown raised confiscation order (file pic).
Will: Crown raised confiscation order (file pic). © STV

A man faked a relative's multi-million pound will in a bid to cheat a charity out of a "colossal" donation.

Paul Coppola forged his second cousin's signature to create a new will that conned Medicins Sans Frontieres out of the remainder of the estate.

Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard he had known Desiderio Coppola all his life and they had a close relationship, with Coppola referring to him as an uncle.

Desiderio Coppola signed a will in July 2010, appointing a friend, Christopher Ferrard, and his solicitor to act as his executors in the event of his death.

The will bequeathed various amounts among friends and family, including a £100,000 legacy to Paul Coppola.

It also left the residue of his £7m estate to Medicins Sans Frontieres, which provides medical aid in war-torn regions and developing countries.

'He said the deceased had agreed to change the terms of his will.'
Fiscal depute Ann MacNeill

The court heard that in October 2011, just days before Desiderio Coppola's death, a new "will" appeared that purported to bear his signature.

It appointed Mr Ferrard and Paul Coppola to act as executors and altered bequests to friends and family, removing the charity from the will and leaving Paul Coppola as the sole recipient of the remainder of the estate.

Fiscal depute Ann MacNeill said other family members became suspicious of the new "will."

The fiscal said: "The accused explained that he found out that the deceased was due to leave the majority of his wealth to charity and that he had persuaded the deceased to change his will.

"He said the deceased had agreed to change the terms of his will."

In June 2012, confirmation of the will was granted and a total of £1.2m was paid to friends and family members who had been bequeathed specific amounts.

In March 2013, Paul Coppola received a property in Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, which was estimated to be worth £250,000, and he sold it weeks later for £290,000.

He also received a further property in the city's Waterloo Place.

'It's a colossal amount involved here in the attempted fraud.'
Sheriff Frank Crowe

Later that year, lawyers acting for Mr Ferrard contacted Medicins Sans Frontieres to inform them of concerns that had been raised.

Lawyers acting for the charity went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and successfully raised an action to have the "will" set aside in 2014.

Paul Coppola, who lives in Waverly Park Terrace, Edinburgh, chose not to defend the action and police began an investigation the following year.

The 65-year-old admitted to officers that he had forged the signature of his relative and had the will witnessed by a man and a woman although they had no knowledge of what the document was.

He said he regretted his actions.

The court was earlier told he had begun transferring money and the properties back to the executors of the estate.

Paul Coppola previously admitted that between October 9, 2011, and October 25, 2013, at Royal Park Terrace, Edinburgh, and elsewhere, he obtained £300,000 and two properties by fraud and attempted to obtain the residue of the deceased's estate.

Sheriff Frank Crowe deferred sentence on Coppola on Wednesday, seeking additional background and financial information.

The Crown has raised a confiscation action against him.

The sheriff said: "It's a colossal amount involved here in the attempted fraud.

"The court has to consider that at the end of the day."

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