A couple taking a stroll near La Londe in the south of France stumbled across a buried box containing €400,000 in cash after their dog unearthed it by chance.
They are now entitled to keep half of the sum as the owner could not be found despite a concerted search by local authorities.
The other half of the money will go to the local commune of La Londe, Var, which owns the land where the money was found.
Dog uncovered bag with mysterious box inside
The couple discovered the money while walking their dog in the hills of Valcros, close to the town of La Londe in May 2021.
The dog began scratching the ground and uncovered what turned out to be a half-buried rubbish bag with a metal box inside. The bag had been dislodged due to heavy rains in the area.
Opening the box, the couple discovered a huge stash of notes, totaling €400,000. The box contained four separate bundles of €200 notes, with 500 notes in each bundle.
The next day they reported the money to the local gendarmes who launched an operation to find the owner along with the AGRASC (Agence de gestion et de recouvrement des avoirs saisis et confisqués).
The inquiry lasted two years and included the use of sniffer dogs, interviews, poring over old reports of burglaries from around the time of the finding and DNA samples from the box. However the original owners could not be found – and did not come forward to claim the money.
The case was closed by the public prosecutor of Toulon on June 7 and half of the money has now been handed over to the couple.
What are the rules in France about finding lost items?
If you find a stash of money or items when out in France, it has to be declared to either the gendarmerie or local police within 24 hours.
The authorities will open an investigation if they find the stash suspicious. If not, they will hand the case over to the local authorities, who will look for the owner of the item or money.
If you do not declare valuable items or money you find, you could face a €1,500 fine or one year in prison.
After one year, if the owner has not been identified, the money will be returned to you – however, you cannot spend it until another three years have passed.
In this intermittent period, you are only the “usufructuary” of the money and must give it or objects back if the owner comes forward.
If the case closes without the original owner being found – or three years go by – those who discovered the ‘treasure’ are now the rightful owners, states Article 716 of the Civil Code.
In situations where the treasure is found on land belonging to someone else, it is split, with half being given to the owner of the land.
In this situation as the box was found on land belonging to the local town it receives €200,000.