France ramps up fight against ‘foreigner gangs’

France ramps up fight against ‘foreigner gangs’

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
France ramps up fight against ‘foreigner gangs’

French police ride bikes as they patrol outside the Louvre museum during a visit by Paris Police Prefect focusing on security at the world’s most visited museum. REUTERS photo

French authorities are taking new measures to fight against the rise in crime targeting foreigners through stepped up security and a publicity campaign to make visitors more aware of the dangers.

Tricksters, cheats and pickpockets abound along the golden strip running along the banks of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to the famed Notre Dame Cathedral, with landmarks such as the Louvre museum along the way.

A common ploy employed by hustlers is to accost visitors with the line “Do you speak English?” and then get them to sign a petition to support a bogus organization working for the handicapped or orphans and finally demand a donation.

City authorities, who have made free guidebooks available in several languages including English, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish, are clear about what to do.

“In such situations, the advice of the Paris chief of police is to be careful, and walk away,” the English version of the guide states. “In fact, the petitioners may tempt you to part with your money.

This will never be passed on to charitable organizations, but rather fuel illegal organizations and underground networks. Whilst they divert your attention, an accomplice may be going through your handbag or your pockets.”

Fake gold rings

Paris, which attracted 29 million visitors last year, has deployed about 200 police daily since April at the main tourist landmarks along the Seine as well as the Montmartre area and on public transport in a bid to buck this trend.

Many of the policemen are in plainclothes and on bicycles. Sonu Singh, an immigrant from India who sells bottled water in the courtyard of the Louvre, said he witnessed “all kinds of nonsense on a daily basis.”

“They are a scourge,” he said. “They approach people with fake gold rings and ask ‘did you drop it?’ Then they demand five or 10 euros saying ‘Now you have got a gold ring.’”

“It’s because of them that people like me are also hauled up by the police. But the police are good and once they realize we’re not doing anything dodgy, they let us go,” Singh said.

Police say there are rich pickings. An official in the capital’s chic seventh arrondissement, where the Eiffel Tower is located, said a single sting yielded 10,000 euros. “These pickpockets are very professional. That’s their job. They steal all day long. These pick pocketing teams are very very professional,” said Damien Vallot, a police superintendent in the district.

Visitors from China, Middle East on target

“This phenomenon has grown with the explosion of visitors from China and the Middle East,” he said. “They pay the entrance, look like tourists and mingle and buy food and even use taxis to make a getaway.”

Concern has grown both in China and France in recent months over the increasing number of thefts and attacks targeting Chinese tourists, many of whom carry huge amounts of cash. In March, robbers targeted a group of 23 Chinese tourists in a restaurant shortly after they arrived in Paris. One scam is a game in which three discs, only one of which has a white circle on the obverse side, are shuffled and placed along a line.

The punter stands to double a bet of 50 euros by correctly picking the disc with the white circle in the swindle that police say is chiefly staged by Latin Americans.

A swarthy middle-aged man running one such betting game opposite the Eiffel Tower, yells in English, “Attention, I take all money, pound, dollar, euro.” Then an elegantly dressed woman, an accomplice it later emerges, bets several times and makes a huge amount of money before walking off.

Workers at the Louvre museum went on strike in April to protest increasingly aggressive pickpockets, forcing its closure for one day. More police have been deployed there since.