September 4, 2015
Source: The Telegraph by Henry Samuel
Gang of 16 pickpockets including “Queen of Thieves” and Versailles Palace guard on trial for “selfie robberies” at top tourist sites including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
A Romanian known as the “queen of thieves” and 15 others conducted a spate of robberies at top Parisian landmarks while at least one security guard “turned a blind eye”, a Paris court heard on Thursday.
Masquerading as smart young tourists taking selfies, the gang netted hundreds of thousands of euros by fleecing unsuspecting foreigners, including Britons, at sites including the Eiffel Tower, the Orsay and Louvre museums, and the Palace of Versailles.
Detectives suspected the gang had accomplices inside the different landmarks, but only one is standing trial – a security guard at Versailles. The guard admitted accepting a €10,000 (£7,300) bribe to look the other way – even warning the gang of the whereabouts of his most “efficient” colleagues – but said he only agreed to help after receiving death threats.
Thibaut Cotta, lawyer for one of the accused, said other alleged accomplices believed their employers would not take action in order to protect the sites’ tourist-friendly “image”.
Thefts were so prevalent that in April 2013 staff at the Louvre went on strike, saying they would return to work when police sent reinforcements.
Wearing Bermuda shorts and cameras, the gang worked in groups of three, with one stealing, another causing distractions and a third keeping a look out.
If they were caught, the thieves screamed, started fighting or even took their clothes off in the galleries to put off tourists while they made their escape.
At the height of their operation, the Louvre registered some 138 thefts for the month of August 2012, with €138,000 (£100,000) reported stolen.
The charges largely relate to thefts in 2013, but police said the gang wired around €700,000 (£510,000) to Romania between 2005 and 2013.
Investigators said they believed the gang was well-organised.
Two women were among the alleged masterminds: Mariana Gandac, 25, alias Cinca, and Sandra Baciu, 35, dubbed “the Queen of Thieves”.
The pair are accused of coordinating around a dozen accomplices, mainly at the Louvre and at Versailles. During one secretly recorded conversation, Ms Baciu confessed to “hating public holidays” as it brought more Parisians to the museums – who were of little interest to the gang.
Among the accused are a couple who say they met while stealing from the same handbag in 1994 in Rome. Police said the couple’s standard of living was well above their official means, with several properties registered under their names in Romania.
The Facebook page of another defendant shows films in which her baby plays with allegedly stolen €500 notes.
This is the second trial in four months after eight Romanian pickpockets using the same techniques were sentenced in May.
The trial is expected to finish on September 11.
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