Real-life 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' are rumbled by police
He hobnobbed with aristocrats and Vatican cardinals and conferred the title of countess on former 'Baywatch' star Pamela Anderson, but His Imperial Highness the Prince of Montenegro and Macedonia was perhaps not quite what he seemed.
Far from being a blue-blooded descendant of an illustrious royal line from the Balkans, Italian police say Stephan Cernetic was a conman and a fantasist.
It is claimed he dazzled the gullible with his plausible manner and supposed pedigree in a real-life version of 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels', the 1988 comedy in which Steve Martin and Michael Caine compete to swindle an heiress out of her fortune on the French Riviera.
Mr Cernetic is now under investigation for having allegedly blagged his way into five-star hotels and persuaded them to give him free hospitality and accommodation.
Police accuse him of fraud - specifically, fabricating identity documents, lying to public officials and claiming a false identity (below).
Despite the fact that the royal family of Yugoslavia, which incorporated Montenegro until the break-up of the federation, was abolished when Tito's Communists seized power after World War II, Mr Cernetic gave himself the grandiose title 'His Imperial and Royal Highness, Hereditary Prince of Montenegro and Macedonia, Serbia and Albania'.
The 56-year-old, who also spells his name Tchernetich, appears to have wormed his way into the confidence of diplomats, celebrities, businessmen, sportsmen and genuine royals.
He met former Formula One impresario Flavio Briatore and had himself photographed, beaming, next to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State who is second only to Pope Francis in the Holy See.
He also met genuine royals - including Prince Albert of Monaco and Prince Emanuele Filiberto, the grandson of Umberto II, the last king of Italy - as well as the Swedish model Victoria Silvstedt.
Mr Cernetic also had a sidekick, a 62-year-old friend who allegedly posed as Macedonia's ambassador to Italy.
Two years ago, at a ceremony on the Italian Riviera, Mr Cernetic laid a silver sword on the shoulder of Pamela Anderson, making her a "contessa" or countess, in recognition of her animal welfare work.
The full title he bestowed on the 'Barb Wire' actress, which appeared to be entirely made-up, was 'Dame of the Grand Cross of the most prestigious knighthood title of Constantine Order of Saint George'.
He built a richly illustrated website, complete with heraldic music, laying on thick the claims to royal pedigree.
It is replete with photos of castles in Transylvania, portraits of princes and emperors, and depictions of historic battles against the Turks. But far from being a Balkan royal, Mr Cernetic is an Italian who was born in Trieste, on the border with Slovenia, and now lives in Turin.
His apparent fantasy world began to crumble when a hotel owner in Italy's southern Puglia region went to the police to complain that the fake royal had enjoyed a week of lavish hospitality without paying.
The 'prince' had allegedly told the hotel to send the bill to the Macedonian embassy in Rome, but the embassy denied all knowledge of him and refused to cough up.
Before elevating himself to royal lineage, the alleged conman posed as a food writer and journalist, persuading upmarket restaurants to give him free meals in return for favourable reviews which never materialised.