Irresistibly charming Madame Giselle in Apartment 713,White House advisor
Washington,Sept20:The irresistibly charming woman in Apartment 713 can hold forth for hours with tales of her luxe life among the intercontinental elite, neighbors say.
Madame Giselle, as some call her, is forever boasting of being the secret wife of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, even saying she facilitated the first phone call between the Middle Eastern leader and President Donald Trump, according to two of her neighbors in an upscale high-rise building just beyond the Washington, D.C. border in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Over homemade Turkish coffee in her lavishly appointed apartment or across the table at pricey restaurants, the neighbors say, she has shared in a confiding tone that she occupies a prime White House office next to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
“I’m kind of a mom figure to her,” Madame Giselle says, according to those who live in her building.
In this gilded age of Washington excess, Madame Giselle’s casual references to her private jet and to her collection of glitzy residences in the tony D.C. neighborhood of Foxhall, as well as in Spain and Manhattan, seemed entirely plausible to some of the friends she accumulated in the hallways and elevators of a building occupied by a sophisticated array of capital insiders. For a time, the elegant woman in Apartment 713 appeared to be just another fascinating curio in a city thick with the creme de la creme of foreign dignitaries and financiers, an only-in-Washington sort of apparition.
Then she started promising to make her neighbors a lot of money.
That’s when things got messy.
On one level, the saga of Madame Giselle is a story about, in no particular order, allegations by two neighbors who say they were swindled in an elaborate scheme to sell T-shirts to the Venezuelan army, a cash-stuffed envelope slipped under a doorway, a legendary bygone scandal involving the Colombian military and a glamorous woman known as “The Blonde,” an ongoing multimillion-dollar Colombian fraud case, and a supposed helicopter ride into Syria. But on another level, as illustrated in interviews and in hundreds of text messages obtained by The Washington Post, it’s a story about friendship and trust, about what we can make ourselves believe and how we can sometimes suspend disbelief when dreams are in sight.
At the edges of the story there is a little girl who adores stuffed animals, a father on the horns of a rough divorce, a former ambassador with a TV star son, and an out-of-towner who longed to get a Ph.D. But the central figure is the woman in Apartment 713, an enigmatic presence who calls herself Giselle Yazji.
In the weeks since The Post began examining the many lives of Madame Giselle, her activities have drawn the attention of investigators in the Montgomery County state’s attorney’s office, according to several people who have been interviewed by authorities. (The office declined to comment.)
Reached by phone recently, Yazji – who said she was in Colombia but planned to return to Maryland soon – issued a string of denials before abruptly hanging up. She denied boasting of a secret marriage to el-Sissi and arranging a call between the Egyptian leader and President Trump, and she brushed aside the allegations of the two neighbors in Maryland who say they were swindled by her. One of those neighbors has sued her, and she has responded in court documents by denying all allegations of wrongdoing.
Giselle, who did not respond when asked if she’d claimed to have a White House office, offered to make herself available for a sit-down interview upon her return to the United States. But later she did not respond to requests to schedule the interview. She also did not respond to follow-up questions sent via email, saying instead in a typo-filled email that “if you want to publish fake information given to you as a gossip from somebody ir neighbors and try to damage my name ease feel free to do it. I really don’t think that a responsible person would do that knowing that I will sue you and sue the newwspaper.”
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Bob Underwood didn’t know what to make of the unusually ornate toy bird he found his 7-year-old daughter playing with one night in early 2015.
“It entranced her,” Underwood recalls in an interview. “It was like a fairy had come and dropped it at the door.”
Neither Underwood nor his daughter knew the provenance of the toy his daughter had discovered outside their apartment, a glass-and-steel prestige address just a few steps from a thicket of luxury department stores. It wasn’t until a few days later that Underwood learned that the friendly woman across the hall had left it there, he says.
Underwood, who is now 53 and works in international development, says gifts soon started appearing every few days from the woman his daughter called Miss Giselle. A box of candy. An enormous stuffed giraffe. Children’s clothing.
Miss Giselle, who is in her late 50s, appeared in Underwood’s life at an unsettled time. He was in the midst of a divorce. Underwood didn’t become romantically involved with his neighbor, he says, but they formed a close bond centered on his daughter. The neighbor started inviting Underwood’s daughter over for tea parties and to watch movies, he says.
In an interview, Giselle confirmed that she’d had the little girl over to her home.
“I really have a beautiful apartment – very rich in many things,” she said. “I said, ‘Of course you can come.’ I very much like this girl.”
Giselle, who said she was born in Lebanon and had lived around the world, tugged at his emotions, Underwood says, by telling him that she was estranged from her own children.
“She gave me the impression of being absolutely heartbroken,” Underwood says. “It was visceral.”
Giselle invited Underwood to her house for coffee and to restaurants for lunches and dinners, he says. He saw her doling out $100 tips “like she was handing out Coca-Colas,” he says. Her apartment was filled with expensive crystal figurines, and there were pictures everywhere of well-dressed people. She would pull out her phone and show him photos of her home in Spain. She claimed to have a monthly income of $2.1 million, he says, and said she was renting an apartment in their building only because it was convenient, given her heavy travel schedule, while she was renovating a much larger residence in Foxhall.
As the weeks passed, Underwood says, his neighbor dribbled out details of what seemed like a charmed and exotic life. Giselle said she was giving sotto voce advice to the Obama administration on Pakistan policy, and had the use of a White House office. She also said she’d been married to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
She told richly embroidered stories about going to Cuba with the ailing Chavez. The way the hospital looked. What the doctor told Chavez. Meeting Raul Castro.
“Very elaborate detail,” Underwood says.
Giselle and her attorney did not respond to questions about Chavez and the Cuba trip.
When Underwood expressed some skepticism, he says, his neighbor rattled off names. Obscure names. Cousins of Venezuelan leaders. Minor officials. At night he’d go to the computer in his apartment and Google the names. They’d show up. Her knowledge was nothing short of “encyclopedic,” he says.
Underwood often has trouble getting to sleep, and on one of his restless nights, he stumbled across English-language articles published in African blogs in the mid-2000s about his neighbor serving as an adviser to the president of Ghana, John Kufuor. Kufuor’s foundation did not respond to a request for comment. (The Post recently showed a photo that accompanied one of the blog posts to Giselle’s neighbors in Maryland, all of whom confirmed that the woman pictured was the mystery woman in Apartment 713.)
Giselle regaled Underwood with stories of her adventures in the free-for-all of Ghanaian politics, he says. Still, for all the bravado, Underwood says, he sometimes questioned whether his neighbor was actually as wealthy as she claimed. Once, when he raised doubts about her financial status, she flung open her closet so that he could see the dozens of designer dresses she owned, he says.
Underwood couldn’t help but be impressed.
“I’d never met anybody like her in my life,” he says.