PARIS — Eight men went on trial in Paris on Tuesday in connection with two spectacular heists at the Harry Winston jewelry store in the French capital in 2007 and 2008.
In the latter, four armed bandits — three of them wearing wigs and dresses — were reported to have seized gems worth 85 million euros, or $107 million, worth of jewels from the Harry Winston store on Avenue Montaigne off the Champs-Elysées.
In June 2009, French police arrested 32 people in connection with the theft. Only a small portion of the stolen jewels was recovered, including a 31-carat diamond hidden in a drainpipe outside the home of Douadi Yahiaoui, the suspected mastermind behind the heist and another robbery targeting the same store in 2007.
An official at the court, reached by telephone, was unable to provide a list of the accused, but it is known that Yahiaoui is among them.
His lawyer, Frédéric Touato, maintained Yahiaoui, known by his nickname Doudou, was only a middleman. “His role was to collect the jewels in another location after the heist of Dec. 4, 2008, and to keep them at his home until all the jewels were offloaded,” he told French cable news channel LCI.
The trial is scheduled to last until Feb. 27.
In the 2008 attack, the four bandits gained entrance to the boutique with the help of a security guard who was their accomplice. They then produced handguns, corralled the staff into a corner and demanded all the store’s merchandise. In October 2007, the same thieves made off with more than $25 million in Winston baubles.
There has been a resurgence in jewelry robberies in France since the peak of the late Noughties, when a Serbian gang, known to authorities as the Pink Panthers, carried out more than 100 heists, many of them on the French Riviera.
In late November, two thieves robbed a Cartier store near the Champs-Elysées, exchanging shots with police and briefly holding a man hostage before surrendering. The loot was recovered.