Riviera sweep nets 20 organised crime suspects

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Police arrested 20 organised crime suspects, confiscating yachts and luxury cars in a wide-scale sweep at the weekend in Marseille and along the French Riviera, officials said Monday.

Some 170 police officers were mobilised for the operation, making arrests Saturday on the Riviera and in and around the southeastern city of Marseille, with one group picked up on board a luxury yacht.

"It was a weekend among friends on a board a 27-metre (88-foot) yacht, and they were all together on the boat," said police director Christian Lothion, adding that officers made the arrests "without firing a shot".

All 20 suspects, including a man who has been on the run for 20 years, remained in custody Monday, officials added.

Police seized four yachts and 200,000 euros (240,000 dollars) as well as "a very large number" of forged identity documents, handguns, bank cards, luxury cars and watches, prosecutor Jacques Dallest told a press conference.

The operation stemmed from an investigation into a group based in the southern city of Marseille and Corsica and involved in gambling.

Some of those arrested have "heavy criminal histories... even if we cannot yet place them exactly in the structure of organised crime" in Marseille, Dallest said.

He said the investigation focused on illegal gambling, money-laundering and extortion by organised gangs.

One suspect's name was released, that of Bernard Barresi, who was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison in 1994 for a multi-million-franc robbery from an armoured van in eastern France.

According to a source close to the investigation, those arrested also include two suspected organised crime chiefs from the Marseille region, brothers Michel and Gerald Campanella.

The identities of the others were not released, but "they are names that are well known in organised crime," Lothion said.

© 2010 AFP

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