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December 14, 1932|
Laragne-Montéglin, Hautes-Alpes, France
|Died||June 8, 1989
|Criminal charge||Bank robbery|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment (in absentia)|
Spaggiari is reported to have committed his first robbery in order to offer a diamond to a girlfriend. Perhaps as part of a deal made with the authorities, he would later join a paratroop regiment during the Indochina War. He was not present at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu because he was imprisoned for robbery at the time.
During the Algerian War he worked for the Organisation armée secrète (OAS), a clandestine anti-de Gaulle and anti-decolonisation organization. Despite the fact that he was probably more of a sympathiser than a real activist, Spaggiari was later sentenced to some years in prison for his OAS activities. During his imprisonment at the Santé prison, Spaggiari wrote his first autobiographic book Faut pas rire avec les barbares ("One mustn't laugh with the barbarians"). He then supported the nationalist candidacy of Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour in the 1965 French presidential election.
In 1976, he was the owner of a photographic studio in Nice, living in a house in the hills over the city named Les Oies Sauvages. He apparently quickly became bored with his law-abiding middle-class life. Later accounts described him as cavalier and stylish.
When Spaggiari heard that the sewers were close to the vault of the Société Générale bank in Nice, he began to plan a break-in into the bank. Eventually he decided to attempt digging into the bank vault from below. Spaggiari rented a box in the bank vault for himself and put a loud alarm clock in the vault. He set the clock to ring at night in order to check for any acoustic or seismic detection gear. In fact, there were no alarms protecting the vault because it was considered utterly impregnable; the door wall was extremely thick and there was no obvious way to access the other walls.
Spaggiari contacted professional gangsters from Marseille, who, after examining his plans and the site, decided not to participate in the heist. His accomplices probably were recruited through old OAS friends. His men made their way into the sewers and began a two-month effort to dig an eight-metre-long (26 ft) tunnel from the sewer to the vault floor. Spaggiari had taken many precautions during this long dig. His men worked long hours continuously drilling. He told his men not to drink coffee nor alcohol and get at least 10 hours of sleep every shift to avoid any danger to the mission.
On July 16, 1976, during a long weekend due to Bastille Day festivities, Spaggiari's gang broke into the vault itself. They opened 400 safe deposit boxes and stole an estimated 30–60 million francs worth of money, securities and valuables. It was the largest heist in the history of bank robberies to that date.
According to some accounts, Spaggiari brought his men a meal including wine and pâté, and reportedly they sat down in the vault for a picnic lunch, after welding the vault door shut from the inside. The gang spent hours picking through the various safe deposit boxes. Before they left on July 20, they left this message on the walls of the vault: sans armes, ni haine, ni violence ("without weapons, nor hatred, nor violence"). This was Spaggiari's message to the world, implying that he considered himself to be something more than a common thief.
Capture and escape
At first the French police were baffled. However, by the end of October, they were closing in, and on a tip from a former girlfriend, they arrested one of the errant thieves. After a lengthy interrogation he turned over the entire gang, including Spaggiari. When Spaggiari, who had been accompanying the mayor of Nice Jacques Médecin in the Far East as a photographer, returned to Nice, he was arrested at the airport.
Spaggiari chose Jacques Peyrat, a veteran of the French Foreign Legion who belonged at the time to the National Front, as his defence attorney. Spaggiari first denied his involvement in the break-in, then acknowledged it but claimed that he was working to fund a secret political organization named Catena (Italian for "chain") that seems to have existed only in his fantasy.
During his case hearings, Spaggiari devised an escape plan. He made a fictitious document which he claimed as evidence. He made the document coded so it had to be deciphered by the judge. While judge Richard Bouaziz was distracted by the document, Spaggiari jumped out of a window, landing safely on a parked car and escaped on a waiting motorcycle. Some reports claimed that the owner of the car later received a 5,000-franc cheque in the mail for the damage to his roof.
Left-wing papers later claimed that Spaggiari had received help from his political friends, in particular from ex-OAS militants close to the mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin. The accusations forced Médecin to go through a second round of voting at the local elections of 1977.
In 1995, Jacques Peyrat accused Christian Estrosi, French minister and former motorcycle champion, of having been Spaggiari's driver. Estrosi later proved that on that day he had been motorcycle racing in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Life in hiding
Spaggiari remained free for the rest of his life. He was sentenced in absentia to a life in prison. Reportedly he underwent plastic surgery and spent probably most of the rest of his life in Argentina. However, it is reported that Spaggiari came several times clandestinely to France, visiting his mother or his wife "Audi". While publishing of his last book Le journal d'une truffe, he was interviewed by Bernard Pivot for the TV program Apostrophes that was reportedly recorded in Milan, Italy.
According to a CIA document declassified in 2000 and publicised by the National Security Archive, Michael Townley, the DINA international agent responsible for the murder of Orlando Letelier, a member of Salvador Allende's government, in Washington, DC, 1976, was in contact with Spaggiari. Information contained in the document suggests that Spaggiari (code name "Daniel") conducted operations on behalf of DINA.
Spaggiari was said to have died under "mysterious circumstances". The press reported that his body was found by his mother in front of her home on June 10, 1989, having been carried back to France by unknown friends. However it now seems well established that his wife Emilia was with him when he died of throat cancer on June 8, 1989, in a country house in Belluno, Italy. She drove his body from Italy to Hyères and lied to the police (transporting a corpse was a criminal offence).
Remains of the loot from the heist have never been found.
- Faut pas rire avec les barbares (1977)
- Les égouts du paradis (1978)
- Le journal d'une truffe (1983)
French authors René Louis Maurice and Jean-Claude Simoën wrote the book Cinq Milliards au bout de l'égout (1977) about Spaggiari's bank heist in Nice. Their work was translated to English in 1978 by British author Ken Follett under the title The Heist of the Century; it was also published as The Gentleman of 16 July and Under the Streets of Nice. Follett was outraged when some publishers marketed it as a new Ken Follett book, while it was, in fact, little more than a rushed-through translation.
Three films were produced which were also based on the Nice bank robbery:
- Les égouts du paradis, a 1979 French film directed by José Giovanni.
- The Great Riviera Bank Robbery, also known Dirty Money and Sewers of Gold, a 1979 British film directed by Francis Megahy.
- Sans arme, ni haine, ni violence, a 2008 French film directed by Jean-Paul Rouve.
A Czech film, Prachy dělaj člověka, contains a reference to the heist, suggesting that one of the characters participated in it.
In 2016, Italian author Carlos D'Ercole published a book about the heist titled Le Fogne del paradiso.
- "FBI, Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), January 21, 1982" (PDF). National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book. George Washington University. 21 January 1982. pp. 1, 4, 5. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Immelman, Martin; Stewart, Greig. "The Heist of the Century". Ken Follett. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Rothery, C. (Producer). (2003). Masterminds [Television series]. "The Riviera Job." Season 1 Episode 15. Canada. Video on YouTube. Retrieved 2011-06-18.