Albert Spaggiari

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Albert Spaggiari
Born(1932-12-14)14 December 1932
Died8 June 1989(1989-06-08) (aged 56)
OccupationPhotographer
Paratrooper
Criminal statusDeceased
Criminal chargeBank robbery
PenaltyLife imprisonment (in absentia)

Albert Spaggiari (14 December 1932 – 8 June 1989), nicknamed Bert, was a French criminal chiefly known as the organizer of a break-in into a Société Générale bank[1] in Nice, France in 1976.[2]

Earlier life[edit]

Spaggiari was born in Laragne-Montéglin in the Hautes-Alpes département. He grew up in Hyères, where his mother had a lingerie store.

Spaggiari is reported to have committed his first robbery in order to offer a diamond to a girlfriend. Perhaps as part of a deal made with the authorities, he later joined a paratroop regiment during the Indochina War. He was not present at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu because he was imprisoned for robbery at the time. During the Algerian War he worked for the Organisation armée secrète (OAS), a clandestine anti-de Gaulle and anti-decolonisation organization, probably more of a sympathiser than a real activist. Spaggiari was later sentenced to some years in prison for his OAS activities. During his imprisonment at the Santé prison, Spaggiari wrote his first autobiographic book Faut pas rire avec les barbares ("One mustn't laugh with the barbarians"). He then supported the nationalist candidacy of Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour in the 1965 French presidential election.

He owned a country villa in the hills above Nice named Les Oies Sauvages (The Wild Geese), where he raised chickens; in an urban legend he is reported to have had a photograph of Adolf Hitler on the walls and SS runes.[3] However, this is unconfirmed. In 1976 he owned a photographic studio in Nice, living in his villa. He apparently quickly became bored with his law-abiding middle-class life. Later accounts described him as cavalier and stylish.

Work with the DINA[edit]

In 1975 Albert Spaggiari and The Corsican Brotherhood were recruited in France by the Chilean secret police, DINA.[3]

His codename was "Daniel", his activities are unknown but other CB members were tasked with watching Chilean Exiles in France.

This group was called the DINA "Brigada Corsa" ("Corsican Brigade").

Robbery of bank in Nice[edit]

When Spaggiari heard that the sewers were close to the vault of the Société Générale bank in Nice, he began to plan a break-in into the bank. Eventually he decided to attempt digging into the bank vault from below. Spaggiari rented a box in the bank vault for himself and put a loud alarm clock in the vault. He set the clock to ring at night in order to check for any acoustic or seismic detection gear. In fact, there were no alarms protecting the vault because it was considered impenetrable: the door wall was extremely thick, and there was no obvious way to access the other walls.

Spaggiari contacted professional gangsters from Marseille, who, after examining his plans and the site, decided not to participate in the heist. His accomplices probably were recruited through old OAS friends. His men made their way into the sewers and spent two months digging an eight-metre-long (26 ft) tunnel from the sewer to the vault floor. Spaggiari had taken many precautions during this long dig while his men worked long hours continuously drilling. He told them not to drink coffee or alcohol, and to get at least ten hours of sleep every shift to avoid any danger to the mission.

On 16 July 1976, during the long weekend of Bastille Day, Spaggiari's gang broke into the vault itself. They opened 400 safe deposit boxes[citation needed] and stole an estimated 30–100 million francs worth of money, securities and valuables.[3] It was the largest heist in the history of bank robberies to that date.

According to some accounts, Spaggiari brought his men a meal including wine and pâté, and reportedly they sat down in the vault for a picnic lunch, after welding the vault door shut from the inside. The gang spent hours picking through the various safe deposit boxes. Before they left on 20 July they left a message on the walls of the vault: sans armes, ni haine, ni violence ("without weapons, hatred, or violence").

Claim of responsibility by Cassandri[edit]

In 2010 Jacques Cassandri published a book, The Truth about the Nice Heist, in which he claimed responsibility for the 1976 robbery, in which he said that Albert Spaggiari only played a bit part. He could not be prosecuted for the crime under French law as it was too long ago. However, he was arrested on suspicion of later money laundering, using proceeds of the robbery to fund business ventures in Marseilles and Corsica. About twenty people were held for questioning in connection with the case, including Cassandri's wife and children and a Corsican politician.[4]

Capture and escape[edit]

At first the French police were baffled. However, by the end of October, they were closing in, and on a tip from a former girlfriend, they arrested one of the thieves. After a lengthy interrogation he implicated the entire gang, including Spaggiari. When Spaggiari, who had been accompanying the mayor of Nice Jacques Médecin in the Far East as a photographer, returned to Nice, he was arrested at the airport.

Spaggiari chose Jacques Peyrat, a veteran of the French Foreign Legion who belonged at the time to the National Front, as his defence attorney. Spaggiari first denied his involvement in the break-in, then acknowledged it but claimed that he was working to fund a secret political organization named Catena (Italian for "chain") that seems to have existed only in his fantasy.

During his case hearings, Spaggiari devised an escape plan. He made a fictitious document which he claimed as evidence. He made the document coded so it had to be deciphered by the judge. While judge Richard Bouaziz was distracted by the document, Spaggiari jumped out of a window, landing safely on a parked car and escaped on a waiting motorcycle. Some reports claimed that the owner of the car later received a 5,000-franc cheque in the mail for the damage to his roof.

Left-wing papers later claimed that Spaggiari had received help from his political friends, in particular from ex-OAS militants close to the mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin. The accusations forced Médecin to go through a second round of voting at the local elections of 1977.

In 1995, Jacques Peyrat accused Christian Estrosi, French minister and former motorcycle champion, of having been Spaggiari's driver, but Estrosi proved that he had been racing in Daytona Beach, Florida at the time.

Life in hiding[edit]

Spaggiari remained free for the rest of his life. He was sentenced in absentia to a life imprisonment. He is reported to have had plastic surgery, and to have spent probably most of the rest of his life in Argentina, visiting France clandestinely to see his mother or his wife "Audi". While publishing his last book Le journal d'une truffe an interview with him by Bernard Pivot was recorded , reportedly in Milan, Italy, for the TV program Apostrophes.

According to a CIA document declassified in 2000 and published by the National Security Archive, Michael Townley, the DINA international agent responsible for the murder of Orlando Letelier, a member of Salvador Allende's government, in Washington, DC, 1976, was in contact with Spaggiari. Information contained in the document suggests that Spaggiari (code name "Daniel") conducted operations on behalf of DINA.[5]

Spaggiari was said to have died under "mysterious circumstances". The press reported that his body was found by his mother in front of her home on 10 June 1989, having been carried back to France by unknown friends. However it now seems well established that his wife Emilia was with him when he died of throat cancer on 8 June 1989, in a country house in Belluno, Italy. She drove his body from Italy to Hyères and lied to the police—unauthorised transport of a corpse is a criminal offence in both Italy and France.

None of the proceeds of the robbery were ever found.

Works[edit]

  • Faut pas rire avec les barbares (1977)
  • Les égouts du paradis (1978)
  • Le journal d'une truffe (1983)

Translated into English by Martin Sokolinsky and published as Fric-Frac: The Great Riviera Bank Robbery (1979) and The Sewers of Gold (1981).

Popular culture[edit]

French authors René Louis Maurice and Jean-Claude Simoën wrote the book Cinq Milliards au bout de l'égout (1977) about Spaggiari's bank heist in Nice. Their work was translated to English in 1978 by British author Ken Follett under the title The Heist of the Century; it was also published as The Gentleman of 16 July and Under the Streets of Nice. Follett was outraged when some publishers marketed it as a new Ken Follett book, while it was, in fact, little more than a rushed-through translation.[6]

Three films were produced which were also based on the Nice bank robbery:

The Canadian television series Masterminds produced and aired an episode titled "The Riviera Job," reenacting the story of the robbery.[7]

A Czech film, Prachy dělaj člověka, contains a reference to the heist, suggesting that one of the characters participated in it.

In 2016, Italian author Carlos D'Ercole published a book about the heist titled Le Fogne del paradiso.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ AFP (February 12, 2018). "Suspected mastermind on trial for France's 'heist of the century'". www.theguardian. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  2. ^ Jacobs, Julia (January 31, 2019). "A Secret Tunnel Leading Toward a Florida Bank Puzzles the F.B.I." www.nytimes.com. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Christopher Othen. "Sewer Rats - The True Story of the 1976 Société Générale Heist, France's Biggest Bank Robbery". Bright Review. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  4. ^ Henry Samuel (20 January 2011). "Police arrest mastermind of 1976 French Ocean's Eleven bank heist". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  5. ^ "FBI, Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), January 21, 1982" (PDF). National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book. George Washington University. 21 January 1982. pp. 1, 4, 5. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  6. ^ Immelman, Martin; Stewart, Greig. "The Heist of the Century". Ken Follett. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  7. ^ Rothery, C. (Producer). (2003). Masterminds [Television series]. "The Riviera Job." Season 1 Episode 15. Canada. Video on YouTube. Retrieved 2011-06-18.

External links[edit]