• France's news in English
 

Roma kids 'forced into crime like conscripts'

Published: 30 Sep 2013 16:39 GMT+02:00

The 27 members of the Roma community, originally from Croatia,  whose trial began in Nancy on Monday, are accused of enlisting their wives and children, some as young as 10, to carry out burglaries across Europe.

The case has been described as a "landmark" trial by prosecutors as well as “extraordinary” by the policeman leading the investigation.

But it could not have come at more of a sensitive time with France deeply embroiled in a fierce debate about the country's policy of dealing with the Roma community, most of whom the country’s Interior Minister has claimed, do not want to integrate.

The trial in Nancy will no doubt provide extra fuel to those who are more inclined to blame the Roma for their own problems with integrating in France.

Burglaries carried out daily across Europe

On Monday the court heard how “captains and lieutenants" and their children, aged around 10-years-old,” carried out burglaries on a daily basis around Europe.

Gilles Weintz, the police officer who took charge of a complex probe into the families' activities, said they were behind more than 100 robberies carried out in 2011 alone, in France and neighbouring parts of Belgium and Germany.

"The burglaries were daily, all over Europe," Weintz said. "They never stopped: for the children it was like a form of military service."

Weintz said the prosecution would also present evidence of brides being bought then renounced when they did not bring in enough money.

The evidence against the families is based on the tapped phone calls of 120 suspects which the officer said had revealed a mafia-style structure in which clan chiefs were supported by a network of subordinate captains and lieutenants, who in turn ran the children at the bottom of the pyramid.

"Some of what we discovered was particularly shocking, like the father who asked his 12-year-old daughter to hide a stolen watch worth €80,000 in her rectum because he knew the police would not do body searches on minors."

Women traded on the strength of their stealing skills

The people trafficking charges related to the alleged purchase of wives for up to €180,000 each.

"The better they were at stealing, the higher the price was," Weintz added. 

"Young looking women also commanded higher prices because they had a better chance of passing themselves off as minors."

The officer cited the case of a woman identified as Nathalie who had been bought but failed to live up to expectations by bringing in "only" €200,000 over two years

"A Roma court ordered her family to pay back €100,000 but the amount was finally reduced to 55,000 to take into account the sexual abuse she had suffered."

The children meanwhile were expected to bring in up to €5,000 per month each in the form of stolen goods that were then sold on, helping to finance luxury lifestyles for the clan chiefs, some of whom owned upscale properties in Slavonski Brod in Croatia.

The suspected supremo of the whole operation - a 66-year-old woman - is to be tried separately from the 27 suspects on trial here.

Lawyers for the defendants contest the people trafficking charges, saying the financial transactions were part of traditional dowry arrangements.

National debate on Roma

Defence lawyers also questioned whether their clients could reasonably expect a fair trial in light of the current atmosphere of hostility towards Roma in France.

The Roma row to break out in France was provoked by the outspoken Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who publicly backed France's policy of deporting Roma, because "most of them don't want to integrate" he said.

Those comments sparked a fierce backlash from Roma rights groups as well as other members of the government political elite. However an opinion poll published at the weekend suggests most French people are behind Valls when it comes to the Roma question.

The poll reveals 77 percent of French people agree with Valls and only 22 percent disagreed saying “he should not stigmatise a segment of the population”.

The opposition has been quick to pounce on an episode they say has once again exposed President François Hollande's tendency to dither when confronted with difficult decisions.

"A government where you have some ministers organising attacks on other ministers cannot last," said Francois Bayrou, the leader of the centrist MoDem party. "Coherence has to be re-established and that is the responsibility of the president and the prime minister."

The sniping at Valls from the Green and left of his own party continued unabated on Monday with Green Senator Esther Benbassa branding his attitudes on the Roma as "quite simply unacceptable."

She added: "These (Valls's) comments recall the darkest hours of our history. There is no such thing as a people who cannot be assimilated, only countries who do not make them welcome."

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Charlie Hebdo cartoonist wins top comic award
French cartoonist Riad Sattouf speaks after scooping the Fauve d'Or trophy. Photo: PIERRE DUFFOUR / AFP

Charlie Hebdo cartoonist wins top comic award

A youngster's tale of life torn between France and the Middle East by a Charlie Hebdo contributor scooped the top award at one of the world's biggest comics festivals in France on Sunday. READ  

Greek FM wants debt deal 'by the end of May'
New Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and his French counterpart Michel Sapin arrive at a press conference after their meeting on Sunday. Photo: JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP

Greek FM wants debt deal 'by the end of May'

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis on Sunday said he wanted to reach a new agreement with international creditors on his country's debt burden "by the end of May". READ  

Three more cops held over missing coke haul

Three more cops held over missing coke haul

Three French police officers were on Saturday brought before judges investigating the theft of more than 50 kilograms of cocaine from police headquarters in Paris last year, a judicial source told AFP. READ  

Frenchmen deported for nude pics at Angkor
A man cycles through the north gate of the Angkor Thom. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

Frenchmen deported for nude pics at Angkor

Three French tourists will be deported from Cambodia after they pleaded guilty to taking nude pictures of each other inside the country's famed Angkor temple complex, a prosecutor said Saturday. READ  

Greek FM in Paris to lobby for debt cuts
Yanis Varoufakis at the handover to the new Greek government earlier this week. Photo: ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

Greek FM in Paris to lobby for debt cuts

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has moved forward to Saturday a planned trip to Paris that launches the new anti-austerity government's search for EU allies, his office said. READ  

When French tourists behave badly abroad
In 2013 France's consul-general in Australia issued a plea to French backpackers saying their behaviour was bringing shame on the French community. Photo: drunk_by_i_woke_up_today/Flickr

When French tourists behave badly abroad

The French aren’t known to be a particularly rowdy bunch, but they have been known to misbehave while abroad. From an orgy in the Pompeii brothel to scaling an American landmark, we've made a countdown of some of their most mischievous exploits. And the prize for the naughtiest goes to… READ  

France lists how to spot jihadists (and new dads)
Nine ways to spot a potential jihadist, by the French government. New parents beware. Photo: AFP

France lists how to spot jihadists (and new dads)

As part of its new counter-terrorist campaign “Stop Jihadism”, the French government has released a nine-point check list to help people spot someone on the path to jihad, but The Local fears suspicion may fall on all new parents. READ  

Your top 20 favourite French words
Your top 20 favourite French words. photo: Shutterstock

Your top 20 favourite French words

Everyone's got their favourite French words, whether they're amusing, odd or just fun to pronounce. After we put the call out to readers The Local has put together a list of your suggestions. See if yours made our top 20. READ  

Football
Marseille victim of €700,000 Chinese scam
Marseille's teammates celebrate after winning the French Ligue 1 friendly between Marseille and Benfica Lisbonne in July, 2014. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP

Marseille victim of €700,000 Chinese scam

French Ligue 1 giants Marseille were the victims of a €700,000 ($793,000) international bank transfer scam to China last year, sources close to the case told AFP on Friday. READ  

Frenchmen held for nude pics at Angkor temple
The male tourists were discovered inside the Banteay Kdei temple. Photo: Leon petrosyan/Wikicommons

Frenchmen held for nude pics at Angkor temple

UPDATED: Three French tourists have been arrested by Cambodian authorities for taking nude photos of each other inside the country's famed Angkor temple complex, officials said on Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Why you should steer well clear of Michelin's top Paris restaurants
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
National
France's trial of the year: DSK prepares for court
Culture
The myths that mean French lovers regularly disappoint
National
What you can’t say or tweet in post-terror attacks France
Features
Everything you need to know about studying in France
Culture
What's on in France: Ten things to do in February
National
The ways French motorists drive expats crazy
National
'French culture demands jihadists are punished not de-radicalised'
Culture
'Midriff the new cleavage' at Chanel's Paris show
Politics
'Syriza victory is good news for French people'
Society
France bars parents from naming baby 'Nutella'
National
France has no entrepreneurs!? What about fart pills for windy lovers?
Society
Nutella to Happy: The wacky French baby names banned by law
Culture
Men's Fashion Week in Paris in pictures - from penises to androgyny
Health
Could France be the next country to ban sunbeds?
Gallery
Ten French words you will never hear in France
National
Wrap up warm: Big freeze to hit northern France at the weekend
National
Muslims in France - 'They say we're not French'
National
Paris wants New York-inspired 'citizen cards'
Gallery
An architect has shown how he thinks Paris should look in 2050
Culture
Where are the real "no-go zones" in Paris? We've listed 10.
Society
Cheese diet helps oldest Frenchman live to 110
National
Charlie Hebdo chief stands firm over cartoons as global protests spread
National
'It feels like I'm in a warzone': Paris tourist
National
Are there really 'no-go zones' in Paris?
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
National
A futuristic vision of Paris revealed... and other news
National
What now for France post-terror attacks?
National
France to beef up its surveillance powers
National
Charlie Hebdo sells out within hours in France
Politics
Paris attacks: Knock-on effects in Sweden and across Europe
National
France moves to crack down on terror speech in aftermath of attacks
National
French Muslims react to Charlie Hebdo's Muhammad cover
National
'I only had a few seconds to hide from the Kouachis'
National
After three days of terror France feels like a nation
National
IN PICTURES: France's biggest street demos in recent history
National
And in other news in France ...
National
A defiant France rises up on solidarity like never before
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Paris marches for unity after terror attacks
National
OPINION: 'As bloody as it's been, France is not at war'
National
'It's a true nightmare': Parisians react to terror attacks
National
French to march in unity to help heal their wounded nation
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

538
jobs available