Hungarian map-robbing gang face jail time in France

French prosecutors on Thursday sought prison terms of up to seven years for a group of Hungarians on trial over accusations they stole rare maps worth millions of euros from a string of French libraries.

Hungarian map-robbing gang face jail time in France
File photo: marzolino/Depositphotos
Investigators say the suspects, six men and a woman, honed a methodical scheme of presenting fake library cards in order to consult tomes from the 16th to 18th centuries in cities including Toulouse, Nancy and Lille.
They would then surreptitiously cut out the maps with craft knives, making off with historical prints worth an estimated four million euros ($4.7 million) between 2011 and 2013.
They were tripped up in 2012 when one of the accused was stopped and his car searched by Hungarian customs officers, who found 110 ancient maps, some of which had been stamped by the Toulouse public library in southern France.
Andras Katona, a self-described plumber, said he had bought the entire lot of maps — later valued at 450,000 euros — “at an Italian market from a gypsy who spoke 'Yugoslavian'.”
Hungarian officials alerted the French police, who determined the maps were indeed stolen from Toulouse.
The only suspect to admit taking the maps is Katona's cousin Karoly Forgo, 51, who has lived in southern France for the past 20 years. 
He claims he acted alone after “powerful people” approached him about the job, but has refused to identify them during the trial, which began Monday in Bordeaux.
Prosecutors are seeking a five-year term for Forgo and sentences of two to three years for Katona, Forgo's wife Hedvig, and Gabor Dorogi, a drug addict who was convicted alongside Forgo for stealing freight consignments in Beziers, France, in 2013.
Tibor Szathmari, a 69-year-old antique dealer specialising in ancient maps, is facing seven years behind bars, while his associate, Pal Nagy, who claims to work at a Hungarian demolition firm, is facing six years.
Szathmari has denied the charges, though he has refused to clarify the source of his revenues — Hungarian investigators found two new 4×4 trucks and a Bentley valued at some 200,000 euros at his luxurious villa in Hungary.
“I've worked with antiques for half a century… I have hardly any money in my pockets,” he told the court this week.
Investigators have failed to determine where the maps were destined, though they suspect dealers in Britain and the US.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


French justice minister faces trial on conflict of interest charge

France's justice minister has been ordered to stand trial in a conflict of interest case that has embarrassed President Emmanuel Macron's government, his lawyers said on Monday.

French justice minister faces trial on conflict of interest charge

His lawyers said they had immediately lodged an appeal to block the move.

Eric Dupond-Moretti, a former star defence lawyer, was last year charged with misusing his position to settle scores with opponents from his legal career, becoming the first sitting French justice minister to be charged in a legal probe.

The accusations relate to administrative inquiries into three judges. The three had ordered police in 2014 to pore through the phone records of dozens of lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The judiciary accused Dupond-Moretti of a witch-hunt.

He denied the allegations, saying he was merely acting on the recommendations of his staff to investigate possible mistakes by the magistrates who oversaw the seizures of the phone records.

The order to stand trial was issued by the investigation commission of the Law Court of the Republic in Paris (CJR), which hears cases of alleged wrongdoing by serving ministers.

But his lawyers, Christophe Ingrain and Remi Lorrain, said they had already appealed against the move.

“The order no longer exists,” they told reporters as they exited the CJR building.

Dupond-Moretti was not present.