8 men on trial in Paris for jewel heists netting more than $100 million in watches, gems

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PARIS — Eight men charged with one of the world's biggest jewel heists went on trial Tuesday in Paris, accused of stealing more than 100 million euros ($113 million) worth of luxury watches, necklaces, earrings and other valuables from a Harry Winston boutique in two operations.

Many of the jewels have never been found. Charges against the men included armed robbery in an organized gang, association with a criminal enterprise and receiving stolen goods.

Four men dressed as building painters entered the store near the Champs-Elysees, a popular tourist area, by a service entrance in 2007, tying up staff and stealing 360 items of jewelry and 120 watches, according to judicial documents.

A year later, the store was targeted again. Four men — three wearing wigs and dressed as women — walked in the main entrance and stole 297 pieces of jewelry and 104 watches in less than 20 minutes, according to the documents.

"Look at all the TV series of jewel heists, where you have people wearing masks, flak jackets. And here, we have stockings and high heels," defense lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti told reporters.

A security guard for the boutique is among those suspected of participating in the heists. The lawyer for guard Mouloud Djennad said his client is hoping to find some "serenity" after the trial.

The suspected ringleader, Douadi Yahiaoui, has already served several years in prison on drug convictions.

Another defendant, Hassen Belferroum, says he was scooped up unfairly and is innocent, according to his lawyer.

Some stolen jewels were found when police rounded up 25 people in a 2009 sweep. In 2011, 19 rings and three sets of earrings worth a total of 18 million euros ($20.4 million) were dug out from a Paris-area rain sewer near Yahiaoui's house, authorities said. They were hidden in a plastic container set in a cement mold.

Authorities have given varying estimates of the value of the stolen goods, but overall the two heists are believed to have involved jewels worth more than 100 million euros.


Jeff Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.

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