A “retired” Marseille gangster stood trial Monday, suspected of being the brains behind France’s “heist of the century” after seemingly spilling the beans about his alleged leading role in a recent book.
In an apparent act of hubris, Jacques Cassandri, 73, had boasted about being the mastermind of the “heist of the century” — a £24 million robbery by a gang who burrowed into the Societe -Generale bank in central Nice, southern France, from the sewers.
In The Truth about the Nice Heist, Cassandri — writing under the pseudonym “Amigo” — said he was tired of living in the shadow of Albert Spaggiari, the man assumed to have run the Ocean’s Eleven-style bank job, who he claims, in fact, only played a minor role.
On July 16 1976, after two months of drilling through the underlying sewers, a commando of 13 robbers finally broke into the vaults of the heavily guarded bank. They spent the next six days clearing 317 coffers of gold ingots, jewellery and cash amounting to 50 million francs before making their getaway just as the rising sewage waters began to flood the bank.
The treasure was never recovered, but police soon arrested Spaggiari, who first denied involvement then claimed to be the mastermind.
In a coup de theatre, he managed to escape. He jumped out of a 20-foot-high window in the judge’s office, was whisked away by a waiting motorbike, travelled to Paris in the boot of a Rolls-Royce and left France.
Jacques Cassandri (right), alleged ‘brain’ in the case of the 1976 spectacular burglary of the Societe Generale bank of Nice answers journalists’ questions, on February 12, 2018 at Marseille courthouse, as he arrives for the opening hearing his trial for his suspected role in the laundering of the booty. The booty, which has never been found, was estimated to be 46 million francs. / AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVATBORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
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Jacques Cassandri (right) answers journalists’ questions on February 12, 2018 at Marseille courthouse, as he arrives for the opening hearing his trial for his suspected role in the laundering of the proceeds of a robbery.
He spent the rest of his life on the run, and the police spoke of him with almost affectionate respect. His own book on the heist was a bestseller, the story was turned into a film, and he died in Italy in 1989.
However, in 2010, Cassandri published his book, in which he set himself up as the mastermind behind the job — safe, he thought, in the knowledge that the robbery took place too long ago for him to be tried under French law. But he hadn’t banked on judges accusing him of laundering the proceeds, charges which had not hit the statutes of limitations.
Cassandri is a well-known figure of the Marseille underworld, with previous convictions for pimping, extortion and involvement in the notorious “French Connection” drug ring with South America in the Seventies.
In the Paris court, in …read more