Paris police were last week left red-faced after €2.5 million worth of seized cocaine “went missing” from the force’s headquarters. Two days later, an officer was arrested on suspicion of stealing the drug haul.
Could a trusted narcotics police officer steal more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of cocaine right under the nose of his colleagues? This is just one of the many questions investigators are asking as they probe one of the most spectacular thefts to hit the prestigious Paris police headquarters.
Here is the story so far…
The suspect was arrested on Saturday while on holiday with his wife and daughter near the city of Perpignan, in southwestern France. He has been brought back to Paris, where he is in custody and is being questioned by the force’s internal investigators. People close to the inquiry have described the man in custody as behaving “arrogantly” and “saying almost nothing” during interrogations.
Following the arrest, police have searched several properties belonging to the suspect and his family in both Perpignan and Paris, confiscating a small amount of cash.
Investigators are reportedly intrigued by the 34-year-old man’s profile. A Perpignan native, he is in no way believed to be running short of cash: according to the French daily “Le Parisien”, his wife’s family is thought to own at least seven apartments in the Perpignan area alone.
Described as a “handsome guy” and a trusted police officer, he has a near spotless professional track record, tarnished only by recent remarks in his file by superiors questioning his attitude.
He has a penchant for sports and is especially passionate about running. On an online forum for runners, the suspect wrote in a post two years ago that he had been “brought up the hard way” and that he particularly enjoyed taking on “difficult challenges”.
The officer is a member of the same Paris drug squad that seized the cocaine in a string of raids in the French capital in early July. Following his arrest, he was suspended from his post.
Overnight July 24-25, a security camera filmed a man entering the locked room carrying two empty bags. Although the man was wearing a baseball cap to cover his face, the suspect was later identified by one of his colleagues, who claimed to recognise the officer by his silhouette and physical characteristics.
The same night, a female police officer reported seeing a man leaving the headquarters with two “overfull” bags.
In the run-up to the “unprecedented” theft at the central police headquarters at 36 Quai des Orfèvres, in the heart of the French capital, the officer now in custody allegedly asked several questions regarding the secured room in which the seized drugs were stored, including questions about how to gain access to it. According to police, only three people had keys to the room and there were no signs of forced entry.
The theft was not discovered until several days later, on July 31.
Police have not ruled out the possibility that the perpetrator may have had accomplices.
Investigators are still searching for the cocaine, which is not yet believed to have hit the market.
The case has dealt a major blow to the Paris police whose headquarters had already been the focus of a scandal in April, when two elite officers were charged with raping a Canadian tourist at the premises.
On Monday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced he had launched an audit of the drug squad to which the officer under questioning belonged. “The police must be as flawless as it is efficient,” Cazeneuve told “Le Parisien” in an interview.
He said the methods and practices of the squad would be thoroughly scrutinised to ensure that “such acts will no longer be possible”.