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Tuesday
Apr082008

Sans Arme, Ni Haine, Ni Violence

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"Sans Arme, Ni Haine, Ni Violence"
"Without Weapons, Neither Hatred Nor Violence" is what Albert Spaggiari wrote on the walls of a Nice bank vault after he'd tunnelled into it via the sewers over a weekend and nicked millions. A film on his daring heist is out next week.

When Nice photographer and ex-Foreign Legionnaire Spaggiari heard that the sewers were close to the vault of the Société Générale bank, he began to plan a break-in. He decided to do it by digging into the bank vault from below. Spaggiari rented a box in the bank vault and put a loud alarm clock in it, set to ring at night in order to check the possible existence of any acoustic or seismic detection gear. As it happened, there were no alarms protecting the vault because it was considered utterly impregnable.

Spaggiari enlisted the help of some gangsters from Marseille. The gang made its way into the sewers and began a two-month effort to dig an eight metre long tunnel from the sewer to under the vault. The men worked long hours continuously drilling. Spaggiari told them to abstain from coffee and alcohol and get at least 10 hours of sleep every shift to avoid any danger to the mission.

On July 16 1976, over the Bastille Day weekend, Spaggiari's gang broke into the vault. They opened 400 safe deposit boxes and stole an estimated 60 million francs worth of money, securities and valuables.

Spaggiari and his men drank wine and ate pâté while spending hours picking through the safety deposit boxes. Amongst the loot they found nude photos of some wealthy and famous locals, which they attached to the walls of the vault to be seen by all who entered. When they left the vaults four days later Spaggiari wrote his famous message on the walls.

At first the French police were baffled. But three months later, following a tip from a former girlfriend, they arrested one of the errant thieves. After lengthy interrogation (read bashed the crap out of him)he gave up the entire gang, including Spaggiari, who just happened to be accompanying the Mayor of Nice in the Far East as a photographer. He was arrested at Nice airport on his return.

During his case hearings Spaggiari devised an escape plan. He made a fictitious document which he claimed as evidence. And it was in code so had to be deciphered by the Judge in his chambers. He distracted the Judge with the document and then jumped out of a window, landed safely on a parked car and escaped on a waiting motorcycle. (Some reports claimed that the owner of the car later received a 5000 francs cheque in the mail for the damage to his roof.)

Spaggiari was sentenced in absentia to life in prison. He supposedly 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.

Spaggiari died of throat cancer on June 8, 1989, in a country house in Piedmont, Italy. Aged just 57. His wife drove the corpse from Piedmont back to be buried in France.

The loot from the heist has never been found. Here's an interesting French Television interview with Spaggiari - in French unfortunately.

Footnote: you'll notice in the footage at the end that what was written on the walls of the vault was actually Ni Armes, Ni Violence et Sans Haine

Interesting obituary from The New York Times including mention of a book Spaggiari wrote on the robbery - In his book. Mr. Spaggiari complained of the messy conditions under which he worked to bring off the Nice heist. He also mourned that he was unable to open 3,500 safe-deposit boxes because he lacked the proper equipment, and described using mass quantities of bubble bath to help scrub off the sewer slime.

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