French drug kingpin pulled in €80,000 a day

One of France's top drug dealers, whose cannabis-selling network pulled in €80,000 a day has been jailed for 8 years, with 27 other members of the gang also convicted.

French drug kingpin pulled in €80,000 a day
Marseille drug gang pulled in €80,000 a day selling Cannabis. Photo: AFP

One of France's biggest drug dealers, who based his operations in the notorious Marseille housing estate of La Castellane, was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday.

Nordine Achouri, 33, ran a cannabis-selling network based in Tower K of the development that brought in up to €80,000 ($90,000) a day, according to accounts seized by police.

The court in Marseille convicted Achouri along with 27 other members of the gang, who received sentences ranging from 12 months to six years in prison.

Thousands of buyers frequented Achouri's drug peddlers around the rough estate built in the 1950s to house Algerian immigrants in the southern French port.

Its maze of concrete has turned into a hive of prostitution, gun-running and drug trafficking, and is often labelled a no-go area for police.

A record 1.3 million euros in cash was seized by police when they raided Achouri's gang in June 2013.

“The court has not made an example of these people. These are typical punishments for drug trafficking at this level,” said Hakim Ikhlef, lawyer for Achouri's right-hand man, who received a six-year sentence.

(La Castellane district of Marseille is notorious for drugs and gangs. Photo: AFP)

But one of Achouri's lawyers said he was “disappointed” with his client's convictions for purchasing, selling and transportation of drugs.

“I've never seen any proof,” said lawyer Philippe Vouland. “He never had product or money in his hands, and his name does not figure in the accounts.”

Achouri's lavish lifestyle — throwing huge sums around at casinos, tending to his horses and holidaying in Marbella — worked against him, since he had no official job.

He denied having any ties to drug trafficking, saying he made his money as a “business middleman”.

Achouri, who has been in custody since the 2013 raid, started to react loudly when the verdict was delivered, but was swiftly reprimanded by the judge.

“He meant that he found the judgement hard to understand,” said Vouland afterwards.

Many lower-level gang members, charged with storing the drugs, delivering them to dealers or providing other backroom services, are also facing prison terms.

Most have stuck to their rigid code of silence throughout the trial and investigation, with most evidence coming from anonymous sources and hours of wiretapped conversations.

La Castellane was back in the news in February, when policemen came under Kalashnikov fire on the same day as a visit by Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

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IN PICTURES: How floods and a bin strike left Marseille submerged in waste

Torrential rain hit the city of Marseille in the south of France on Sunday and Monday, just days after local waste collectors ended a week-long strike, leading to fears of "catastrophic" waste making its way to the ocean.

IN PICTURES: How floods and a bin strike left Marseille submerged in waste
A man stands on a beach covered with cans following heavy rains and a strike of waste collectors in Marseille on October 5th. Photo: Nicolas TUCAT / AFP.

Marseille is located in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, which Météo France placed on red alert for heavy rain and flooding on Monday. Schools in the area shut and people were warned not to leave their homes as two months’ worth of rain fell in a single day in the Mediterranean city, after heavy rains had already caused flooding on Sunday night.

The situation was compounded by the fact that uncollected garbage was blocking storm drains in certain parts of the city – drains which would normally be cleared ahead of heavy rain – and making it more difficult for emergency services to intervene.

The city’s waste collectors had begun clearing the streets on Saturday after an agreement between unions and local authorities put an end to an eight-day strike over an increase to working hours.

But rain over the weekend made the monumental job even more difficult, and the result was that “rivers of rubbish” flowed through the city’s streets on Monday.

“Rubbish is everywhere. It’s a catastrophe,” biologist Isabelle Poitou, director of the MerTerre association, told AFP. “We’re expecting a strong mistral wind which will push the rubbish, which is currently making its way towards the sea, onto the beaches.”

“It’s vital to come and clear the rubbish from the beaches on Tuesday or Wednesday,” she added. “We need to act before the rubbish gets scattered in the sea at the first gust of wind.”

A woman collects waste on a beach after heavy rains and following a strike of waste collectors in Marseille.

A woman collects waste on a beach after heavy rains and following a strike of waste collectors in Marseille. Photo: Christophe SIMON / AFP.

The video below tweeted by BFMTV journalist Cédric Faiche shows the state of a beach in Marseille early on Tuesday morning. “It’s been cleaned several times but cans and different types of plastic continue to arrive…” Faiche wrote.

However, Faiche told BFM there are similar scenes every time there is heavy rain in Marseille, even if the strike has made the situation even worse.

Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin shared a video of the “sad scene” captured in Marseille on Sunday night. “Discussions between trade unions and the city must not make us forget what really matters: we are all responsible for our seas and our oceans!” she said.

“It’s unacceptable,” Christine Juste, deputy mayor in charge of the environment in Marseille told BFM on Tuesday, criticising the “lack of reactivity” in collecting leftover rubbish following the end of the strike on Friday.

“Why wait so long? In the 6th arrondissement, there has been no collection since the announcement that the strike was over,” she said.

IN PICTURES: See how the deluge has left parts of France’s Mediterranean coast submerged

The Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis intercommunal structure, rather than city hall, is in charge of rubbish collection in Marseille.

On Monday morning, the Metropolis dispatched 650 workers to clear away as much waste as possible ahead of the heaviest rainfall which was forecast for the afternoon.

On Monday evening, Marseille’s Mayor Benoît Payan told franceinfo that 3,000 tonnes of garbage were still yet to be collected in the city. “I asked the Prime Minister this evening to class the zone as a natural disaster,” he added.