Who really masterminded France's crime of the century?

'I was real brains behind Nice bank heist, not Spaggiari’, claims ‘Amigo’ in new book

Molly Guinness
Saturday 21 August 2010 00:00
Comments

For 34 years, the legend of Albert Spaggiari as the daring mastermind behind France's crime of the 20th century has blossomed.

From the raid on a bank via an underground tunnel to the daring escape on the back of a motorbike, his story has spawned films, books and theories of CIA involvement.

But now the legacy of one of the anti-heroes of modern French folklore – who taunted the authorities for their failure to catch him by sending photos of himself dressed as Father Christmas – is under threat. After years of stewing in silence, the man who claims to have been the real brains behind the operation has finally spoken out. Far from being the mastermind, Spaggiari was a mere informer – and a bad one at that.

"He did a useful job, but even that he didn't completely accomplish," the alleged mastermind, known only as "Amigo", told The Independent. "He didn't even know if the bank had an alarm. He didn't know the plan of the vaults, or how to get out."

In 1976, a gang tunnelled through the sewers and stole 50m francs (the equivalent of £24m today) from the vaults of Société Générale in Nice. They left behind empty bottles and a message on the wall: "Without hatred, without violence and without weapons." Even the mayor of Nice reluctantly said "hats off" for a heist so flawlessly executed.

Spaggiari was caught several months later, but escaped during his trial, apparently distracting the judge with a piece of evidence written in code and jumping out of the judge's window to meet an accomplice who was waiting on a motorbike. But even this is a romantic embellishment, according to Amigo, whose book on the raid was published this week. It was pure chance that one of his friends was hanging around in the road below on a motorbike.

Spaggiari spent the rest of his life in hiding, occasionally giving television interviews. Before his death in 1989, he published a memoir of the robbery and encouraged theories, films and books linking him to the government, Italian political movements and the CIA.

Amigo, who is still keeping a low profile, says he was bored of hearing nonsense about the case and so he decided to set the record straight for his friends. "Spaggiari just wanted to create a personality. How could an obscure photographer become the head of a gang?" he said. "He had to elaborate."

According to Amigo's version, Spaggiari did not even help with the digging. And he dismissed Spaggiari's claim that the message on the wall was a political statement. Amigo says he wrote it, having thought of it less than an hour beforehand. It was only designed to demonstrate the contrast between his gang and the kind of criminals who defecated at the scenes of their crimes.

In his book The Truth About the Nice Heist, Amigo introduces his band of tunnellers: Corsican, Fat, Baby Donkey, Crazy and Comb-over. There's also Small, whose footprints were so tiny the police had always believed there was a woman in there. Spaggiari obliged them, inventing in his version a prostitute called Mireille. Nonsense, says Amigo. The tunnel, 8m long, 80cm wide and 1.3m high, was dug completely by hand. Tools would have made too much noise. Though Amigo writes fondly of Spaggiari, he says he feels obliged to point out he was not a true enough crook to get his hands dirty.

Amigo – who has served time but never been arrested for the Nice bank job – has refused to reveal his identity, but said he now lives in Marseille, has a big family and has been an honest businessman for at least 15 years. His publishers said they made inquiries into his background to establish his credibility. They claim a police source identified "Amigo" as one of the suspected perpetrators but there was too little evidence to charge him.

Amigo is not proud of being the mastermind of the celebrated crime. "All the pleasures that come with the life of a crook do not make up for the heavy sacrifices," he said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in