Poor pay made 'French Robin Hood' steal £10m

The driver of an armoured van who was hailed as a French Robin Hood after making off with his €11.6m (£9.9m) cash load told a court yesterday that he stole the money in a rebellion against his boss after years of bad working conditions and poor pay.

Toni Musulin faces three years in jail after he admitted hijacking his own van and driving off while the two guards with him got out to collect some bags from a security depot in Lyon.

Three hours later, the van was found empty in the city's suburbs. Police feared Musulin had been the victim of a hold-up, but when they visited his apartment they discovered that it had been stripped bare, and all his bank accounts emptied.

Two days later, the majority of the money was recovered from a nearby garage rented by Musulin. Interpol launched an international manhunt, and the stocky, grey-bearded driver rapidly became an unlikely hero.

As "Musulin mania" gripped France, fan websites lauded him for the "heist of the century". Facebook groups including "Toni Musulin for President" gathered thousands of fans, while T-shirts emblazoned with Musulin's face and the slogan "Best Driver 2009" went on sale. In the depths of the financial crisis, many saw him as a modern-day Robin Hood striking a blow against the banking giants.

After 10 days on the run in Italy, Musulin turned himself in in Monaco, unsettled by his new status as an international media phenomenon. "It was too much money," he reportedly told police. "I didn't know how to spend it. I saw all the hype it caused and I don't like being recognised."

Musulin, who admits robbery, told the court yesterday that the dramatic gesture was revenge for years of poor working conditions. "They say I'm Robin Hood but I'm not, I'm normal. I had a problem with my boss."

A driver for the Swedish security firm Loomis since 2000, he accused the company of underpaying and mistreating its workers. "It's always the small guys who suffer, so I rebelled," he said. His lawyer, Hervé Banbanaste, said: "The lorries were wrecks, none of the procedure rules were respected [and] everyone had keys to the lorry and the safe."

Musulin is also on trial for insurance fraud over the alleged theft of his Ferrari sports car in May 2009. If he is convicted, his prison sentence could be increased to up to five years.

The location of the remaining €2.5m remains a mystery. Musulin claimed at first that he left the rest in the armoured van, unable to fit it into his hire car. When tests disproved this claim, he suggested that the garage owner may have taken some of the money after he fled. Many suspect that Musulin stashed the cash somewhere in Italy.