When they finally come to make the film of Francisco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias’s life—and judging by the way his story has enthralled the Spanish public of late, it can’t be far off—they really ought to cast Timothée Chalamet in the lead role.
Who else could embody such beguiling youthfulness? Such endearing, blue-eyed cheek? After all, this is the preppy, baby-faced con man who insinuated his way into the upper echelons of Spanish society with little more than bluster and puppy fat. It’s Frank Abagnale in Abercrombie & Fitch, Anna Sorokin with a phony motorcade.
The only thing is, they’ll need to line up an older actor for the film, too—someone with grizzled grandeur, and a faraway look in his eye. Because 27-year-old Gómez Iglesias is currently staring down the barrel of a 30-year prison sentence for a series of high-level crimes and brazen stunts. And the Spanish authorities, long outfoxed by the boy wonder, have a serious point to prove. Down in Madrid, Little Nicolás is in Big Trouble.
The fun started around 2012, when Gómez Iglesias—who had been a member of the Conservative People’s Party since his teens—was a student at the prestigious cunef University of Financial Studies, in the Spanish capital. After allegedly tampering with his ID so that a friend could take his exams for him, Gómez Iglesias set about infiltrating both government and royal circles with a combination of forged documents, good suits, and outright lies.
It began with power lunches with business leaders and political players, where he gained clout by name-dropping Jaime García-Legaz, the Spanish secretary of state for trade at the time and a former professor at cunef. Soon he was swanning about the V.I.P. boxes of Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and moonlighting as a secret-service agent at key events.
At just 20, Little Nicolás—as the press has dotingly dubbed him—managed to defraud a businessman of some $30,000 in return for a bogus meeting with King Felipe in order to grease the wheels of a property deal. The con man even commandeered his own high-security motorcade for the occasion—complete with flashing lights and crackling radios—and was received by a police escort that he requested by phone, after telling them he was an envoy between the government and the royal family.
“I met him by chance at a dinner at the Madrid City Hall,” a business acquaintance told the Spanish newspaper El Conﬁdencial in 2014. “He sat next to me and began to ask me about my signature.” Later, Little Nicolás boasted that he could smuggle the businessman into royal functions. “And the truth is that people greeted him. He sneaked me into the act of celebration of the Constitution organized by the Community of Madrid at the Real Casa de Correos,” the businessman continued. “We didn’t even go through the controls, and I didn’t have an invitation. The security officers addressed him as Don Nicolás.”
At just 20, Little Nicolás—as the press has dotingly dubbed him—managed to defraud a businessman of some $30,000 in return for a bogus meeting with King Felipe.
Later, Gómez Iglesias offered to buy the businessman’s company for $30 million. “My partner and I were stunned,” the owner told El Conﬁdencial. “We could not believe it. He told us that the real owner was going to be the then-Prince Felipe and that he was a simple figurehead.”
Others were conned out of thousands in exchange for phony meetings with the likes of Amancio Ortega (the billionaire owner of fashion giant Zara), or for networking tickets to the Champions League final. In all, El Conﬁdencial estimates Little Nicolás nabbed some $80,000 from Madrid’s business elite with little more than batted eyelids and some hefty name-drops.
The con man’s most brazen act came at the coronation of King Felipe himself, in June 2014—where he bluffed his way into the Royal Palace, slotted himself into the official receiving line, and shook hands with the newly crowned monarch. In fact, press clippings from around that time paint Little Nicolás as the Zelig of Spanish politics—popping up alongside former prime minister José María Aznar and appearing frequently next to senior figures in the Conservative establishment.
The music only stopped for Gómez Iglesias in the autumn of 2014, when he attempted to gate-crash a party at the American Embassy, and the alarm was finally raised. Shortly after, he was arrested and deposited in a Madrid courtroom, where Judge Mercedes Pérez Barrios seemed baffled by his enduring success. In a report, she said that she could “not understand how a young person of 20, using only his word and apparently under his own identity, could have access to conferences, places and events without his behavior alarming anybody.”
Seven years hence, the case is finally drawing to a close. Gómez Iglesias now faces some three decades in jail for a smorgasbord of fraud allegations. (He categorically denies all charges, and has already wriggled away from one by claiming to have a narcissistic-personality disorder.)
But the public’s relationship with their Little Nicolás remains complex, to say the least, and the intervening years in the media-justice circus have not been unkind to him. A Getty Image search shows the young con man beaming at recent film premieres, posing at book launches, and embracing minor public figures at black-tie events, while in 2016 he appeared in the Spanish edition of the reality-TV show Celebrity Big Brother.
This is the country, after all, that tolerated Juan Carlos I as its ruler for nearly 40 years—the allegedly bribe-happy, cash-in-hand king who is rumored to have taken 5,000 lovers, and who never met a shady foreign potentate he didn’t like. But while King Juan Carlos will likely spend his dotage in sun-kissed, Emirate exile, Gómez Iglesias may well grow old in lonely custody. As Little Nicolás has known for some time now, there’s a perilously fine line between a king and a criminal.
Joseph Bullmore is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL