French police on Monday arrested 17 people, most of them with records for organised crime, over the robbery of US reality TV star Kim Kardashian in Paris last October, police sources said.
Police swooped in the Paris region and the south of France after DNA was found at the luxury residence where Kardashian was tied up and robbed of her jewels at gunpoint, one source told AFP.
The heist, worth around nine million euros ($9.5 million), was France’s biggest jewellery theft involving a private citizen in more than two decades.
The oldest suspect being held is a 72-year-old man arrested after police broke open the gate of a pink-walled villa in the Provencal city of Grasse. The youngest is in his early 20s.
Three women were among those arrested, including one aged 65 who was picked up in the southern region of Gard, according to a source close to the probe.
“Almost everyone (arrested) is known for organised crime,” the police source said.
A police official confirmed a news report on the M6 TV channel that Kardashian’s driver at the time, who was an employee of a chauffeur company, was among those detained.
He reportedly tipped off the others that her bodyguard was absent and gave them details about her residence.
Kardashian’s lawyer Jean Veil said his client had “expressed her congratulations” to French police on their work.
Thanks to DNA evidence found at the scene, investigators put in place a surveillance operation and identified the network behind the robbery, the police source said, adding that it stretched to Antwerp in Belgium, a global centre of the diamond industry.
– ‘Major thug’ –
“One of the DNA samples matched an individual known to police for robbery and criminal offences, who is considered a major thug,” the source said.
Money and documents were also seized in the raids.
The suspects can be held for up to 96 hours before being charged.
Veil said prosecutors could decide to ask Kardashian to identify her attackers “in person or with photographs.”
On October 3, a gang of armed and masked men wearing police uniforms burst into the residence in the chic Madeleine area of the capital where the 36-year-old Kardashian and her entourage were staying during Paris Fashion Week.
The gang tied her up, locked her in the bathroom and fled with jewellery including a ring worth around four million euros and a case of gems with a value of five million euros.
The Kardashians’ bodyguard at the time, Pascal Duvier, was not with her when the robbery took place because he was providing security for her sister Kourtney at a Paris nightclub. He no longer works for the family.
The robbery generated more unwanted publicity for Paris, which has seen its image damaged by major terror attacks in 2015 and last year. Luxury hotel bookings and foreign tourist arrivals in France are both down.
– ‘Shoot me in the back’ –
Kardashian, who is married to rap mogul Kanye West, finally broke her silence about the incident at the weekend, saying she feared she was going to be killed by the robbers.
“They’re going to shoot me in the back,” she sobbed to her sisters while recounting the ordeal in a promotional video for the new season of her TV show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.
“There’s no way out. It makes me so upset to think about it,” she added.
The teaser clip suggests the robbery will feature prominently in the new series.
It is believed the men escaped on bicycles. One of the gang dropped a diamond pendant worth around 30,000 euros in the street outside which was found by a passer-by and handed in to police.
Kardashian lodged a formal complaint in France after she was filmed fiddling with her mobile phone at the residence immediately after the robbery.
Her lawyers said in October that video footage was made “without her consent or the police’s and while the police were investigating the crime scene”.
It later emerged that Kardashian had raised the alarm after untying herself and calling her bodyguard.
Kardashian has harnessed the power of social media to rise to fame, with nearly 50 million followers on Twitter and 90 million on Instagram.
A month after her ordeal, two Qatari women were held up on a motorway outside Paris and robbed of valuables worth more than five million euros.