Paris: a million euros in jewelry replaced by nails

It is a sleight of hand valued at more than one million euros. An elegant jeweler from Paris fell into the trap set by high-level fraud professionals. Three men, two Serbs aged 24 and 33 and a 48-year-old Romanian, were charged a few weeks ago in Paris. But a fourth suspect, aged 34, likely the mastermind of this incredible robbery, is still actively sought by investigators from the Paris Brigade Suppression Brigade.

The events date back to the summer of 2018. The scam, carried out like the mechanics of a film script, begins with a group of intermediaries, all eager to receive a commission. The first, Amory, receives a call from a certain Prudence in Belgium. He claims to be in contact with a client who has a sum of 4 million euros to invest in the purchase of precious stones. This windfall would come from Alain, who knows Richard, who knows Sacha, this rich Russian client, from having tried, unsuccessfully, to close a previous transaction a few months earlier.

Thirteen luxury watches and four precious stones

The next morning, Amory, Alain, Richard and a businessman, who knows a jeweler capable of fulfilling this order, meet in a bar on the Porte de Saint-Cloud in Paris. Richard shows them a Caisse des Dépôts statement from an account belonging to a friend of Sacha's father. The balance indicating 8 million euros reassures everyone. Alain leaves and the other three go to the jewelry store on Place Victor-Hugo. They choose thirteen luxury watches and four precious stones, which they photograph and send to Sacha. The rich Russian replied that a Dutch expert would come to evaluate the lot in the early afternoon.

At 3:00 p.m., the expert arrives at the store with Richard. He is a man who speaks bad French and carries an old wallet. The jeweler presents the pieces to him. The gemologist goes out into the street, supposedly to inform Sacha. He comes back, puts the jewelry in a white box before putting the date on it. He puts it in his backpack and asks the shopkeeper to take him to a safe place. The jeweler goes behind the expert to open the chest. He places the bag on his desk. When he retrieves it, the merchant finds it a little heavy and asks the expert if it is indeed the same briefcase.

The false expert identified by his genetic fingerprint

The gemologist loses confidence, threatens the jeweler, orders him to let him go, and flees with the watches and jewelry. The jeweler questions Richard, who remained in the shop. He opens the backpack and finds that the box only contains nails and informs the police. At 4:30 pm at a nearby restaurant, investigators arrested Richard and the woman who had introduced him to the victim. Both are arrested and explain that they were manipulated. Their version is convincing and they are released.

The investigators found the genetic fingerprint of the false expert at the scene. This Romanian is known for having committed robberies in Austria and Spain. He is staying at a friend's house in Sarcelles (Val-d'Oise). The video surveillance images captured around the jewelry store allow the identification of the drivers of a Mercedes B class and an Alfa Romeo that they were monitoring and who picked up the gemologist.

The loot was not found.

The two men who live in Spain and in Aulnay-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis), are Serbian, very little known in police files. Telephone investigations and Richard's testimony allow the identification of “Sacha”, the fake billionaire, as a 24-year-old Serbian man who lives in Rosny-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis).

On December 17, the police arrested the false expert, the false buyer and an accomplice at their homes. But his leader is missing, who had already turned green to escape from another police force that wanted to interrogate him about a false robbery case. The three men are now sleeping in prison and the loot has not been found.

Jacques Morel is a safety reference for the French union of jewelry, goldsmiths, stones and pearls./DR LP/Julien Constant

“THIS TYPE OF SCAM IS STILL RARE”

Are jewelry stores still the target of criminals?

JACQUES MOREL, of the French Jewelry Union. Jewelry stores continue to be the target because there is no longer money in banks or stores. Thieves prefer cheap jewelry stores, where gold can be found but the jewelry has no real value. They melt them again to make ingots. The real problem is watches, which have become a popular item among criminals. In Eastern Europe and the Emirates there is a lucrative market thanks to unscrupulous clients. Recently we have witnessed several attacks on stores but also on individuals, collectors and businessmen. Last February, a former notary was attacked in his home in Yvelines by his watches.

What is the trend? Is the number of attacks increasing or decreasing?

The number of attacks on jewelry stores is decreasing. Fifty events in 2018, 80 in 2017. We are very far from the great years, 632 events in 2010, 720 events in 2011 and 578 events in 2012. These declining figures are explained because professionals have made great efforts to improve the safety of their establishments with entrance gates, alarm and video systems. There is also a decrease in the number of small merchants. Family businesses that did not have the means to invest in security closed. Today, there are only 6,000 professionals left in France.

Are jewelry stores often the target of teams of scammers?

This type of scam, like the one that this Parisian jewelry store fell victim to, remains rare. It is a specialty of people from Eastern European countries. These wizards are presented with rings and sometimes replace them with worthless copies before leaving with the loot. They take advantage of people who do not follow safety procedures designed to put them out of business.

If you present jewelry on a tray, when you look away from customers, you should never leave it within their reach. A second employee should always keep an eye on things. The approach is sometimes elaborate, but when you look closely, you realize that these thugs are not that organized. Like in the Kardashian case, we have people who get a tip, organize a crime and often have a hard time selling their loot because they don't have the necessary network and end up getting arrested.

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