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Feature Article
The Paris Heist: An Embarrassment of Riches? 2014-09-27
The daring daylight robbery of a playboy prince in Paris has become an embarrassment not only to France, coming just before the visit of Crown Prince Salman, and on the heels of a number of high-profile robberies, but to the royal families of the Gulf, as the media spotlight shines on their often vulgar and "blingtastic" ways abroad.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

An audacious, Hollywood-style heist near Paris captured the world's attention in August, not only for the brazenness of the attack, but also because of the identity of the victim, a Saudi royal with a reputation for lavish living. Initial reports did not name the prince, but it soon emerged that he was Prince Abd al-Aziz bin Fahd, a 33-year old nephew of King Abdallah and son of the late King Fahd, a man described by Le Monde as a playboy known for his "extravagance and ostentatious wealth". A suitcase containing a large sum of cash belonging to Abd al-Aziz was taken from one of the cars in the twelve-vehicle convoy, and medications of an unspecified nature were found at the scene. Sensitive documents were also stolen, raising questions over the real motive behind the assault.

The dozen-car convoy, which included several bodyguards, was making its way from the George V Hotel near the Champs Elysees to Le Bouget airport north of Paris when it was set upon by armed gunmen. The airport at Le Bourget, which can accomodate private jets, is often used by high-level visitors, and the purpose of the trip was apparently to handle paperwork for the departing prince. The commando-style attack took place near Port de la Chappelle in the French capital's 18th administrative district, where masked men brandishing automatic weapons (at first said to be Kalishnikovs; later it was reported that the men were armed with handguns) forced the convoy to stop. No shots were fired. One vehicle in particular seems to have been singled out. The lead car, an SUV with driver and two passengers was hijacked by the bandits, said to be six in number, and it was this car which contained both the cash-filled luggage and the documents. This vehicle, according to the Saudi Press Agency, had German license plates and had been hired by a Saudi national whose "belongings were in the car". The burned shell of the minvan was later found near the town of Seine-et-Marne, along with the two stolen Mercedes-Benz used by the gang. Some of the luggage had apparently been dropped along the way. The three aide who had been forced to drive at gunpoint were released unharmed. At the scene of the burnt-out cars was found some medication, documents in Arabic, and some 500-euro notes totalling 25,000 euros.

At first the press refused to give the identity of the victim, and there was some confusion in the initial reports. What was known, however, was that the attackers had taken a large amount of cash (250,00 euros; later this was revealed to be 670,00 euros), and documents. Jewelry and luxury watches were also among the items stolen. The cash was said to have been in a suitcase carried by the party, a not uncommon practice among the elite princes, who may need ready access to cash for unexpected expenses whilst travelling. As the police pursued their "very discreet" investigation, questions began to be raised about the nature of the documents, and whether the assailants had some inside knowledge of the convoy's nature and movements.

To have been so well-informed, the gang must have had accomplices, investigators reason. The assailants knew exactly which car to single out, and the speed of the attack showed a high degree of planning. The location of the raid was not chosen at random either, as the light in that area is poor and there is no video surveillance. The gang were certainly not amateurs. According to police, the professionalism of the job points to some inside information, and several private security guards who were members of the party are under scrutiny. What is not yet certain is whether the documents had any value, and if, indeed, they were the primary target of the hijacking. First reports said they were "sensitive" diplomatic materials, but later police said they were not certain. Their existence could have been unknown to the bandits, or they could have been purposely targeted for use in blackmail.

minister or playboy?
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