Kardashian's chauffeur among robbery suspects arrested

DNA evidence was found on a necklace belonging to Kim Kardashian West (left) that was dropped on a street.
DNA evidence was found on a necklace belonging to Kim Kardashian West (left) that was dropped on a street.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PARIS • Seventeen people were arrested on Monday in France on suspicion of involvement in the robbery of reality television star Kim Kardashian West during Paris Fashion Week in October, including a chauffeur who drove her around Paris in the days before the theft.

Some of the suspects were in their 50s and 60s.

The eldest, a 72-year-old man from Grasse in south-eastern France, was born during World War II and hit retirement age before anyone had heard of Twitter or Instagram, where Kardashian West has millions of followers.

Details about the 14 men and three women who were arrested and about what roles the police think they played in the robbery, have yet to emerge.

Under French law, they can be held for questioning for up to four days before they must be charged or released.

But French officials described the suspects as veteran criminals with years of experience and the underground skills to target Kardashian West and the valuables she sometimes flaunted.

A spokesman for the Paris prosecutor's office said the arrests had been made at 6am on Monday in Grasse, Paris, and the surrounding region, including the quiet suburbs of Vincennes and Le Raincy.

The police seized at least one firearm and large sums of cash, she said, without giving specific amounts.

She did not identify the suspects and could not say for certain whether the people who actually carried out the robbery were among them. But she said most of the suspects had previous convictions for drug trafficking or aggravated theft. The oldest suspect also had a conviction for counterfeiting.

A police source said the police were trying to establish whether the chauffeur had passed on information to the gang.

The robbery took place in the early hours of Oct 3, when five people wearing balaclavas burst into a luxury residence where Kardashian West was staying during Fashion Week.

Her bodyguard was absent at the time.

The assailants held her at gunpoint, tied her up in the bathroom and took jewellery worth at least €9 million (S$13.7 million), along with cellphones and a wallet, before fleeing on bicycles or on foot.

The prosecutor's spokesman said investigators had identified some of the assailants using DNA evidence found at the crime scene and security camera images. None of the jewellery has been recovered.

According to French news reports, some of the DNA evidence was found on a necklace worth about US$31,600 (S$45,300) that was dropped in the street and found by a passer-by.

A police union spokesman said officers had used that information to set up a surveillance operation that uncovered a wider criminal network.

In these kinds of networks, he said, "you have the robbers, and then the one who is going to sell off the goods, the one who puts people in touch, the stone cutter, etc".

The robbery drew international attention and renewed scrutiny of the string of thefts of luxury stores, wealthy tourists and famous visitors in and around the French capital over the past few years.

In November, robbers made off with valuables worth an estimated US$5.3 million after they targeted two Qatari sisters on the highway into the city from Paris-Le Bourget Airport, which is used for many private flights.

Mr Jean Veil, Kardashian West's lawyer in France, told the French newsmagazine L'Express on Monday that the arrests might help recover the jewels and that they would also cut short "shameful speculation" that the robbery was a publicity stunt.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Kardashian's chauffeur among robbery suspects arrested'. Print Edition | Subscribe