Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Nice Bank Robbery

There have been some bank robberies in which the felons patiently tunneled their way in, and were able to rob the contents at their leisure.  Conan Doyle used it as the basis for his Sherlock Holmes story "The Red Headed League" but it was in 1969 when British criminals carried out such a robbery, at a bank in Water Street in Liverpool.  Then in 1971, there was the robbery at Lloyds Bank in London, that produced the ridiculous claim of "compromising royal photos".  Then in 1976, the French had their own take on the crime, with the robbery of a bank in Nice.  The man that was alleged to have masterminded this crime was Albert Spaggiari born on December 14th 1932, and a thief from a young age.  He later joined the Army was involved in the Algerian War, and was supposed to have been a member or sympathiser for the OAS, a far right nationalist group, vehemently opposed to communism.  He settled down into a career as a photographer but was bored.  He said that he was inspired by a book, into tunneling into a bank in order to rob it.

    Towards the middle of 1976, he had a thirteen man team that was to go into the sewers and drill their way through at least eight metres or more of concrete.  He had been in the sewers conducting sound tests to see if the sound travelled enough to be heard.  He had his drillers work in shifts, and ran it with military precision, careful not to exhaust his team.  This took them two months of steady careful work.  They broke through on July 16th, and entered the supposedly impregnable vault of the Societe Generale Bank of Nice.  Over a period of six days, they plundered gold, jewels and cash worth 50,000,000 Francs or £24, 000,000 in todays currency.  They left a message on the wall stating that no violence was used in the robbery.  But despite no evidence for Police to go on, one man of the team was arrested and he soon told all to Police, resulting in the arrest of Spaggiari.  He repeatedly denied any knowledge of the crime but eventually admitted his guilt.  He said that the money was to fund an international movement but did not specify which one.  None of the haul was ever recovered.

    Spaggiari asked to see a Judge, to hand a document about his defence.  Suddenly, Spaggiari raced to an open window and leapt out, landing on a lorry parked below the window, and then onto the back of a waiting motorcycle, which sped off.  He was taken to Paris, and he was whisked out of the country, spending the rest of his life on the run.  He wrote a book about the crime and died in Italy on June 8th 1989.  Then in 2011, French Police arrested a well known criminal named Jacques Cassandri, after he wrote a book about the crime, saying he was fed up of all the credit going to Spaggiari.  He claimed he masterminded it and that Spaggiari was merely a small player in the crime.  Cassandri was safe because under French law, too much time had passed for him to be charged, but it did result in mass arrests, including his own family and a Politician from Corsica.  Marseilles gangster Tony Zampa was said to have helped in some capacity but it was never proven. There has been a number of films about the raid, including one British version called "Dirty Money" starring Ian McShane, Warren Clarke & Stephen Grief