After 4 decades, gangster thought he was safe to splab
Jacques Cassandri in the dock for 1976 burglary after blowing his own cover in 'novel'
A “retired” Marseille gangster stood trial on 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 Société -Générale 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 only played a minor role.
On July 16 1976, after two months of drilling through the 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 théâtre, he managed to escape. He jumped out of a six-metre-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.
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 that 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 1970s.In the Paris court, in a suit and rectangular glasses, Cassandri described himself as a simple “pensioner” before the judge, who read out a dozen charges, including organised fraud, misuse of funds and aggravated money laundering.
“Jacques Cassandri’s fortune and in consequence the Cassandri family [appears] to draw its hidden origin from the Nice heist bounty,” concluded the magistrates in their indictment, pointing out the “considerable estate” for a man who has never officially worked.
They said that the wealth of details in the book could only have been known by someone present during the robbery and who played a leading role in the notorious heist.
However, Frédéric Monneret, his lawyer, said: “He always said that it was a novel and I don’t think a court can convict on a novel.”
During questioning, Cassandri confessed to playing a minor part in the heist, but told investigators he was “only” paid two million euros and quickly spent all the money.
He faces 10 years in prison if found guilty. The trial continues.
– © The Daily Telegraph