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Updated: June 1, 2010 22:53 IST

£5.5 million jewellery heist in France

Kim Willsher
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The scene of an armoured vehicle heist in Marseille. Photo: AFP
AFP The scene of an armoured vehicle heist in Marseille. Photo: AFP

Detectives baffled and quietly impressed

A robbery by armed bandits who made off with 200kg gold jewellery worth £5.5 million has left French detectives baffled and quietly impressed.

Officers described the raid, in which a jewellery wholesaler and his family were held at gunpoint overnight, as a professional job carried out with military precision. In terms of forward planning, audacity and meticulous attention to detail, the robbery resembled the plot of the Hollywood film Ocean's Eleven.

“We've never seen anything like it,” said an officer, who admitted that police had no leads. “This was an extremely professional job.” The masked and heavily armed robbers worked in silence, wore aluminium gloves to avoid leaving traces of DNA, and made off with their haul only after cleaning the scene with methylated spirits.

Details of the robbery, which have just emerged, suggest the gang had been preparing the operation for some time. Just before midnight last Wednesday, the gang ambushed gold and jewel dealer Bruno Franchini (39), as he drove his Mercedes to his home in the fishing port of Cassis, near Marseille.

The assailants entered the house and rounded up his wife and two children, aged nine and 12. While several attackers stayed at the villa, Mr. Franchini was taken out of the house to a remote hillside where other members of the gang beat him, trying to find out the codes for the alarms protecting his wholesale business and for the safe containing the jewellery.

Police say Mr. Franchini told his attackers he did not have the codes or the keys to the business premises. Those guarding his wife and children were said to have been “extremely calm and polite”.

The thieves took Mr. Franchini home and spent the night interrogating him about the details of his business. When they discovered that members of staff held the codes and keys, he was driven to his offices in the Prado business district in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The Franchinis told police the men had communicated using walkie-talkies and made calls on mobile phones taken from family members.

Once at the offices, the thieves disabled the sophisticated alarm system and lay in wait for the company's 27 staff, whom they tied up and questioned one by one as they arrived, until they obtained the keys and codes to the safe.

They loaded the jewellery and gems into Mr. Francini's Mercedes and cleaned up before driving away. Back at the villa, the robbers wiped glasses, cups and anything they had touched with methylated spirits. The Mercedes and another family car were later found burned out at a motorway rest area 32km away.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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