Paris Highway Robbers Target Qatari Sisters in $5.3 Million Heist

By AURELIEN BREEDEN


PARIS — Two well-heeled Qatari sisters arrived on Monday night with their family by private jet at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, where they were met by a chauffeur-driven Bentley waiting to take them to their pied-à-terre in the French capital.
 
Soon after the two sisters, ages 60 and 61, and their driver set out on the A1 highway toward Paris, the car in front of them — a black Peugeot 406 with tinted windows — slammed on its brakes and forced the Bentley off the highway.
 
It was a holdup.
 
Three balaclava-wearing men emerged from the Peugeot. One of them attacked the Bentley’s driver with tear gas, while the two other assailants snatched the women’s luggage from the trunk. Within seconds the three bandits got back into their car and sped away with valuables worth an estimated 5 million euros, or about $5.3 million.
 
A police union spokesman said the brazen attack was clearly well planned.
 
“It doesn’t seem that this was random,” said the spokesman, Luc Poignant. “It was targeted.”
 
The heist is the latest in a series of robberies targeting wealthy tourists and famous visitors in and around Paris, to the dismay of many working in a tourism industry that was already suffering from the effects of last year’s terrorist attacks.
 
During Paris Fashion Week last month, several assailants burst into a luxurious apartment in the French capital, tied up the reality television star Kim Kardashian West, and robbed her at gunpoint of jewelry worth several million dollars. Last week, in the upscale 16th arrondissement of Paris, would-be robbers attacked the Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat and her partner with tear gas before fleeing empty-handed.
 
The prosecutor’s office in Bobigny, which is handling the highway robbery case, said there were no known links to either of those Paris heists. But investigators were not ruling out a possible connection to the robbery last month of a French businessman, Philippe Ginestet, because the modus operandi was similar.
 
Mr. Ginestet, the chief executive of a French discount store chain, was leaving Le Bourget, the same airport where the Qatari women landed, in a taxi with his wife when another car hit them from behind, according to a report in Le Figaro newspaper.
 
When the taxi driver got out to look at the damage, three men wearing balaclavas emerged from their vehicle and stole the couple’s luggage, taking valuables worth about €100,000, or $106,000, including watches and jewelry, Le Figaro reported.
 
Mr. Poignant, the police spokesman, said the Qatari women’s driver had told the police that he had seen a handgun in the assailants’ Peugeot when he got out of his car to see what was going on, “but he was not held at gunpoint himself.” Neither sister was physically harmed, the prosecutor’s office said.
 
The valuables taken on Monday evening appeared to be mostly jewelry, the prosecutor’s office said, but it was not clear what exactly had been stolen. Mr. Poignant cautioned that the €5 million figure was an estimate provided by the victims, and that the actual value of the stolen goods might be different.
 
The A1 highway, which connects Paris to the Charles de Gaulle and Le Bourget airports, is notorious for these kinds of robberies, especially in a tunnel near the city’s entrance where assailants take advantage of slow traffic to target luxury cars that appear to be carrying foreign visitors, Mr. Poignant said.
 
In 2014, the convoy of a Saudi prince was traveling to Le Bourget when masked gunmen hijacked the lead car and made off with about $335,000 in cash, and in 2015 an art collector from Taiwan traveling by taxi was robbed of jewels worth several million dollars in the tunnel.
 
This month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced a government plan to spend about €10 million euros to deploy video surveillance cameras and other security measures near museums, monuments, hotels and other tourist-heavy areas in the Paris region, including the A1 highway.

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