40 arrested over highway robberies

Massive swoop snares gang who had posed as police to rob foreign tourists sleeping in A7, A8 and A9 motorway rest areas

MORE than 40 people have been arrested in a swoop on a gang of thieves who have been targeting foreign tourists on the A7, A8 and A9 motorways in the south.

Around 500 police and gendarmes were involved in a massive operation covering an area from Marseille to Avignon and Toulon.

The mafia-type gangs from eastern Europe – mainly the Balkans – have been involved in more than 100 crimes across Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur; from Perpignan to Nice.

They had posed as policemen in motorway aires rest areas, often surprising people as they slept and then robbing them of everything they had.

Altogether 41 people have been arrested, mainly in the north of Marseille – with 34 from the police raid and others who were already in jail.

However, inquiries into the autoroute robberies uncovered a network of mafia-type gang crime said to include drugs, illegal gaming, money-laundering and arms-trafficking.

Police found more than €100,000, a kilo of cocaine, several kilos of cannabis, guns including a Kalashnikov and several luxury cars.

Roland Gilles, director general of the Gendarmerie Nationale, said the operation was the result of more than a year of police work.
Photo: SIRPA Gendarmerie