Gang goes on trial over kidnapping of elderly French hotel heiress

An aggrieved Italian restaurant manager, a hard-up British ex-soldier and a private detective are among 13 people who go on trial in France on Monday over the kidnapping of a millionaire hotel heiress.

Gang goes on trial over kidnapping of elderly French hotel heiress
Jacqueline Veyrac was snatched close to her home in Cannes. Photo: AFP

Jacqueline Veyrac, the 80-year-old owner of the five-star Grand Hotel in Cannes and the ritzy seafront La Reserve restaurant in nearby Nice, was snatched on the street on October 24th, 2016, and bundled into the back of a van.

She was held bound and gagged for two days in the vehicle, which was parked on a quiet street, before being spotted by a passerby and released.

The main suspect in the trial, which is being held in Nice, is Giuseppe Serena, former manager of La Reserve who allegedly bore a fierce grudge against Veyrac after she terminated his contract in 2009.

Serena is accused of ordering her abduction with a view to obtaining a ransom with which he hoped to open a new restaurant.

His suspected accomplices have designated the bankrupt Italian, who is also accused of an earlier kidnap attempt on Veyrac in 2013, as the mastermind of the operation.

Serena, who has been in pre-trial custody for over four years, denies the charges.

Back in 2016, two masked men pounced on Veyrac as she was about to get into her SUV and shoved her into a stolen van driven by an accomplice.

One of the kidnappers threatened to kill her if she made any noise.

She was also forced to drink a sedative.

Veyrac tried to call for help and bang on the doors of the van but only succeed in wriggling free and making contact with a passerby on her second night in captivity.

Former British soldier Philip Dutton, 52, has admitted to involvement in the kidnapping.

Dutton, who is also accused over the 2013 kidnap plot, demanded a €5 million ransom for Veyrac of which he intended keeping 10 percent, with 50 percent meant for Serena and the rest for other accomplices, investigators said.

Among the other defendants are former paparazzi-turned-private-detective Luc Goursolas, who is accused of fitting a tracking device to Veyrac's car, and three suspected gang members from a poor Nice neighbourhood accused of carrying out the kidnapping.

Veyrac's late husband developed the Grand Hotel in Cannes, one of the palatial seafront establishments favoured by the international jet set during the annual Cannes film festival.





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French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.