Fugitive tried for Paris bank heist 25 years later

5th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - A French woman who forged a new life for herself as a psychotherapist in Mexico during 25 years on the run went on trial here Wednesday over a botched 1980 Paris bank heist in which police shot dead one of the robbers.

PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) -  A French woman who forged a new life for herself as a psychotherapist in Mexico during 25 years on the run went on trial here Wednesday over a botched 1980 Paris bank heist in which police shot dead one of the robbers.

Just four days before she would have been exonerated under France's statute of limitations, Mexican police arrested Helene Castel in May 2004 in the town of Xalapa where she had been living with her grown-up daughter under an assumed name.

"When I was arrested it was like a cold shower in the middle of a heatwave," Castel, 46, told the court Wednesday. "But I realised that I needed to live through this, I needed to be reborn in France to be whole."

In May 1980 she is alleged to have been one of a gang of seven wearing wigs and dark glasses who attempted to hold up a branch of the BNP bank near the Paris opera house.

Surrounded by police, they took six people hostage and in a subsequent shoot-out police killed one of the gang. Three others -- including Castel -- escaped.

Castel was convicted in her absence in 1984 and sentenced to life in jail. Under French law she has the right to a new trial now that she is in custody.

She was extradited in August 2004 from Mexico.

"The year and a half of detention that I have just been through has been very constructive for me," Castel told the court. "It has forced me to put the truth about myself into words and I do not regret it.

"I can say today that I very much regret taking part in the hold-up," she added.

Castel is charged with "armed robbery in an organised group" and "taking of hostages to facilitate a crime," and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail. The trial is due to end Friday.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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