WITNEY antiques dealer and councillor David Harvey may appear at first sight to have little in common with top Belgian chef Roger Souvereyns but both have fallen victim to fantasist and thief Oliver Trusgnach.

Both hired Trusgnach to work for them but found their trust in him betrayed. Mr Harvey’s business was drained of £115,000 between 2000 and 2003 through the use of forged cheques, while Mr Souvereyns returned from a summer holiday in 1995 to find his Michelin-starred country house hotel’s receptionist had disappeared, along with cheques, jewellery and silverware.

After Trusgnach was jailed last week, Mr Harvey described him as “a consummate con artist”, while Mr Souvereyns told the Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure in 1996 that Trusgnach was a “mythomane” – an extreme fantasist.

Trusgnach achieved notoriety in his native Belgium when, after being arrested for the thefts from Mr Souvereyns’s Scholteshof Hotel, he claimed that in 1989, aged 15, he had had sex with Elio di Rupo, then the country’s deputy prime minister.

An investigation found the claims were baseless and Mr di Rupo remains a leading figure in Belgian politics, serving as the country’s Prime Minister from 2011 until October last year.

Trusgnach’s mother ridiculed her son’s claims, telling La Dernière Heure at the time: “At 15, Oliver was still a snotty-nosed kid who knew nothing about life”, adding “he’s missing a screw”.

Mr Souvereyns was not the first to fall victim to Trusgnach’s thirst for easy money. At the start of 1995, Trusgnach had stolen about £15,000 from his parents and grandmother in the eastern Belgian city of Genk before travelling first to Switzerland, then to London, where he was working as a hotel receptionist when he met the chef.

It was after returning to his homeland to work at Mr Souvereyns’s hotel in May 1995 that Trusgnach first claimed to be Baron Trusgnach of Mecklenburg- Schwerin, the identity he would use when working at WR Harvey Antiques in Corn Street, Witney, a few years later.

Witney Gazette:

David Harvey outside his antiques shop in Corn Street, Witney

The German title of Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin fell into disuse in 2001 with the death of the 91-year-old Duke Frederick Francis, who had no male heirs.

Speaking after Trusgnach was jailed in Belgium in 1996, Mr Souvereyns said: “He’s a fantasist who can fool everyone.

“With us, when he claimed to be a baron, he proved it by showing stamped documents. And they were all fake.”

After being released from prison in 1997, Trusgnach returned to Britain. Historian Arturo Beéche, an expert on European royalty, described an encounter at a black-tie dinner in London in 1999 with “a young man who had the gall to try to pass himself off as a member of the about-to-be-extinct male line of the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin... Oliver Prinz zu Mecklenburg-Schwerin he introduced himself as… ”

Mr Beéche would soon meet his fellow dinner guest again in rather different circumstances: “Imagine my reaction when two days later I ran into Herr von Mecklenburg-Schwerin at Blenheim Palace... nope, not visiting the Duke of Marlborough, as one would imagine such a high-browed young gentleman to be... but directing tours filled with Japanese and American tourists… and on Herr Oliver’s lapel was a name-tag that read ‘Mr Brown’.”

A year later, Mr Harvey employed a new gallery manager, who, he said, “had an excellent CV and came highly recommended”, including a reference from Blenheim Palace.

Trusgnach was paid a salary of £18,500 but the man that Mr Harvey and his partner Chrissie Curry knew as Oliver von Mecklenburg-Schwerin was soon up to Oliver Trusgnach-style skulduggery to boost his income, perfecting the knack of forging Mr Harvey’s signature and syphoning money out of the business into four bank accounts, using cheques supposedly signed by Mr Harvey.

The money went to fund a Champagne and cocaine-fuelled lifestyle for Trusgnach, who liked to hold court at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford.

Some of his acquaintances thought he was studying law, while others were told he was connected with the Knights of Malta and was studying theology at Campion Hall, a Jesuit college that is part of Oxford University.

Witney Gazette:

Oliver Trusgnach, far left, and friends at the King’s Arms pub in Oxford with former Cabinet minister, BBC chairman and Oxford University Chancellor Lord Patten, front, centre

He also enjoyed frequent nights out partying in London, a world away from the sedate Ditchley Park estate, near Charlbury, where he rented a home with a boyfriend who styled himself as Lord Dashwood.

His companion’s ‘title’ might have been a clue that all was not as it seemed, being borrowed either from the 18th century rake Sir Francis Dashwood, Baron le Despencer, or from the film What a Girl Wants, in which Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones star Colin Firth plays Lord Henry Dashwood, a British politician who is tracked down by a teenage American daughter he has never met.

Trusgnach told Mr Harvey that his trips to London were for dinners with German diplomats and other dignitaries, when in reality he was partying in Soho, and would often send letters to nightspots alerting them in advance that ‘His Serene Highness’ would be paying a visit.

But his luck ran out on July 7, 2003, when he was asked to draw up a full record of cheques he had sent out from the Witney business.

Realising the game was up, ‘His Serene Highness Prince Oliver von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Count Trusgnach, Viscount von Meyendorf, Baron of Kauczor-Sigmaringen’, said he needed to pick up some dry-cleaning and left Mr Harvey’s Corn Street shop to go on the run.

Although the police and private detectives hired by Mr Harvey were on his trail, Trusgnach evaded arrest for 11 years.

After a spell in London – brought to an end when he fled the UK after the case was highlighted on BBC TV’s Crimewatch – he is thought to have returned to Belgium, then spent time in Germany, before moving to the Spanish island of Mallorca, where, by 2009, he was head of marketing for the Cappucino Group, a chain of upmarket cafes, a job he still held at the time of his arrest.

He apparently made little attempt to hide his identity on the island, where he lived in the historic heart of Palma de Mallorca, but his whereabouts only became known to Mr Harvey last year, when Trusgnach sent a text to a friend in the US, who contacted Mr Harvey.

The information was passed to the police, a European Arrest Warrant was activated and Spanish police picked up Trusgnach on Mallorca on July 7 last year – 11 years to the day that he had fled from Witney.

Trusgnach was deported to the UK 10 days later and remanded in custody, remaining behind bars until he was sentenced to 27 months’ imprisonment at Oxford Crown Court on Tuesday last week, putting the strange story of a real-life Billy Liar on hold for a few months at least.