The subject of Netflix’s latest scandal-based documentary has never been charged with the crimes recounted in the shocking film.
On their first date, back in January 2018, Simon Leviev took Cecilie Fjellhøy on a private plane from London to Bulgaria just for a night. They had met on Tinder, and after a coffee date at his hotel, he’d expressed regret that he had to leave for a business trip…but maybe she’d like to join him? She googled her date he was the son of the “king of diamonds” Lev Leviev, a famed Russian-Israeli diamond oligarch.
She quickly went home and packed a bag while his driver waited. It was the beginning of a whirlwind relationship that would ultimately leave her heartbroken, deceived, and more than $200,000 in debt. Netflix’s latest true crime documentary The Tinder Swindler allows Cecilie, along with Pernilla Sjöholm and Ayleen Charlotte just three of the many victims of Simon Leviev to tell their stories.
Born Shimon Hayut in Bnei Brak, a city just east of Tel Aviv, Simon Leviev did change his name, but in fact, had no relation to the Israeli diamond tycoon family whatsoever. He initially fled Israel in 2011 to avoid going to trial for fraud-related crimes he’d committed in his early 20s and headed to Finland, where he began running the scheme now outlined in Netflix’s new documentary.
In 2015, he served 2 years in Finnish prison after swindling three women, and upon his 2017 release, he went back to Israel. Before he could be arrested, he escaped again, heading back to Europe, where The Tinder Swindler picks up with Cecilie’s story.
His scheme, according to the new Netflix doc, was as follows: he would meet women on Tinder, lead them to believe he was a wealthy heir working in the dangerous diamond business, and begin long-distance relationships. All the while, he was “traveling for work” and living lavishly on the dime of his previous target. After he’d been dating one woman for a while, he’d explain that he was in danger, send videos of his “bodyguard” bleeding, and tell his girlfriend that he needed to use a credit card in someone else’s name so he couldn’t be tracked.
His girlfriends sent credit cards, took out loans and lines of credit, and even flew suitcases of withdrawn cash to him in his time of need. He promised them he’d pay them back. Of course, they believed him, he was the prince of diamonds, flew private everywhere, stayed at the fanciest hotels, and was always dripping in designer clothing.
And he did pay them back: with checks that bounced, fake watches, and bank transfers that never went through. Little did each woman know that all the wealth they bore witness to had been paid for by the woman who came before them women her were, by that time, alone, in debt, and desperate for answers.
A wanted man in Israel, Sweden, England, Germany, Denmark, and Norway, Leviev was finally caught by the police using a fake passport in Greece in July of 2019 and extradited to Israel after the wild events of Netflix’s documentary. At the time, he denied all charges against him.
“I have the right to choose whatever name I want, I never presented myself as the son of anyone, but people use their imaginations,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 news. “Maybe their hearts were broken during the process…I never took a dime from them; these women enjoyed themselves in my company, they traveled and got to see the world on my dime,” he said.
In December of 2019, he was convicted of theft, fraud, and forgery of documents in Israel charges from 2011, unrelated to his crimes across Europe, and sentenced to 15 months in prison. After serving five months of jail time, he was released on good behavior.
“How can you give trust to a man like that, who escaped from Israel twice? A man that deceived and swindled women in Europe for hundreds of thousands of euros. Where is the justice?” Pernilla Sjöholm told Israel’s Channel 12 News when the news of Simon’s release from prison broke.
“Myself and some other women filed lawsuits against him with the European Court of Justice and submitted complaints against him with Interpol,” said a Finnish woman who wished to remain anonymous. “Private investigators and Interpol people are waiting for him to leave Israel to arrest him,” said another victim. “He ruined my life and shattered me emotionally and financially.”
Currently 31 years old, Simon Leviev lives as a free man in Israel, according to Instagram stories shown in The Tinder Swindler. Before the documentary landed on Netflix, his account was active with nearly 100,000 followers, although it was set to private. But as the doc gained popularity in the last few days, Simon deactivated his Instagram altogether.
Before deleting the account, he wrote: “Thank you for all your support. I will share my side of the story in the next few days when I have sorted out the best and most respectful way to tell it, both to the involved parties and myself. Until then, please keep an open mind and heart.”
Simon Leviev has not been charged for any crimes that may have occurred outside of Israel, including the conning of Cecilie Fjellhøy, Pernilla Sjöholm, or Ayleen Charlotte, who appear in Netflix’s doc. According to The Times of Israel, he allegedly swindled an estimated $10 million dollars from victims across the continent from 2017-to 2019 alone. Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen are still paying off their debts.
Content courtesy of Esquire & NFH Digital Team