'Heist of the Century' Author on Trial as Mastermind

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February 12, 2018

Can a 74-year-old author be prosecuted for committing a crime that he wrote about in a book? French authorities say, "Oui!" and have arrested Jacques Cassandri and put him on trial.

Jacques Cassandri

Eight years ago, authorities claim, Cassandri wrote a book that described in quite accurate detail how a gang of thieves spent months tunnelling into a bank vault in Nice in 1976. The theft in the Riviera branch of the Société Générale was termed the "heist of the century" and was the inspiration for several other books and for a major release film, 1979's The Great Riviera Bank Robbery.

Using rubber rafts to maneuver through sewers and taking advantage of hundreds of feet of electrical cables that they had installed themselves to oversee the digging of the 26-foot-long tunnel, which they reinforced with concrete, the gang broke into the five-ton safe one quiet weekend, welded the door shut, and then rifled through 371 safety deposit boxes, making off with a combination of cash, jewels, gold bars, and other things of value that were the equivalent of at total of 46 million francs ($US36 million).

Nice bank Heist of the Century

Inside the vault was a message from the thieves: "Without a shot, without violence and without hate." The loot was never found.

The gang numbered a handful, but only Albert Spaggiari was arrested for the robbery. Just as he was about to be tried, in 1977, he escaped by jumping out of a courthouse window onto a motorcycle driven by an accomplice; he was never caught and died in 1989 but not before writhing a book validating police claims that he was the mastermind behind the plot. That book, Les Egouts du Parasid, or The Sewers of Paradise, was published in 1978.

Cassandri, meanwhile, was a known gangster and convicted felon who has lived at times a lavish life in the intervening years but didn't have much money in the 1976, the year that the robbery took place, according to investigators.

An author whose pen name was Amigo published The Truth about the Nice Heist in 2010. In the book, Amigo admits to being tired of living in the shadow of the man who is thought to have been the mastermind. The author refused to reveal his true identity but did say that he was a businessman living in Marseille. The book sold well.

By the time that the book was published, the French statute of limitations for prosecuting someone for robbery had run out. However, French law does not have an expiration equivalent for money laundering, which is what Cassandri has been charged with and for which he has now appeared in a Marseille courthouse.

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