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How a French Robber Almost Got Away With the Perfect Heist

A burglar wanted in million-dollar holdup was finally nabbed by authorities after he failed to brush up on the French penal code before he came out of hiding.
December 5, 2014, 9:35pm
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François Chamorro, a French criminal who has been on the run from the law for 10 years, very nearly got away with a 1 million euro heist ($1.2 million). After confusing the country's statute of limitations laws, 52 year-old Chamorro was sentenced to eight years in prison for armed robbery.

It all started in 2003, when Chamorro was working for French cash transportation company Temis. One of his regular tasks was to move money from a safe at the Rungis market — the world's largest fresh produce wholesale market — to France's central bank.

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According to French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, on in May of 2003, Chamorro gave his colleagues a bottle of champagne, under the pretext that he had some good news to celebrate. While his colleagues cracked open the bottle, Chamorro snuck off to find a weapon, and returned with a gun. Holding his colleagues at gunpoint, he filled two duffle bags with 981,000 euros ($1.2 million) in banknotes, before fleeing in a rental car.

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French television channel TF1 described Chamorro as a simple man with a passion for military strategy, and boundless enthusiasm for the Napoleonic wars. According to TF1, French police traced Chamorro back to a hotel room outside of Paris, where he had dumped thousands of euros in order to move around more freely. Police also found a letter addressed to them, while his wife found another addressed to her with 14,000 euros.

Speaking to French daily Le Parisien, French attorney Patrice Pauper, who represents the cash-in-transit company that employed Chamorro, said that the former employee "pretended he was Rambo in the Courcouronnes woods for two and a half months." According to reports, Chamorro spent several summer weeks in the forest near Paris, hiding out in a trench.

Following this venture, Chamorro headed to the southern port town of Marseille, where he bought a fake ID. In February 2004, he boarded a plane to Montreal where he spent several months. He eventually settled in the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, where he lived a quiet life until 2013.

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In May 2013, 10 years and one day after the Rungis holdup, Chamorro showed up at the French embassy in the Dominican Republic to apply for a new passport. Believing he was safe because the 10-year statute of limitations had run out on his crime, he applied under his real name. Unfortunately, Chamorro was unaware that in 2008, a French court had convicted him in absentia, and slapped him with a jail sentence.

Paris attorney Pierre Lumbroso told VICE News that the mistake that may have cost Chamorro his freedom.

"The statute of limitations on criminal proceedings puts a time limit on the delay, in which the public prosecutor can initiate proceedings. The delay for prosecution is one year for a ticket, three years for an offense, and ten years for a crime," Lumbroso said.

But there is also a second type of statute of limitations, one which is applied to the conviction, rather than to the crime itself.

"The statute of limitations on sentences is different," Lumbroso explained. "Once you have been convicted, if you evade the law and don't serve your sentence, the statute of limitations is 20 years from the day you were sentenced."

In order to return to France a free man, Chamorro would have had to wait until 2028, at least 20 years after the court's ruling.

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Follow Virgile dall'Armellina on Twitter : @armellina

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