Europe

Mystery of the botched kidnap of a millionaire hotelier on the French Riviera

French police officers stand at the scene where Jacqueline Veyrac was found alive two days after being kidnapped Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police at the scene in north-western Nice, where Jacqueline Veyrac was found alive

A Michelin-starred restaurateur, a former press photographer called Tintin and a homeless Englishman who says he was in the SAS: these are the main suspects in last week's botched kidnap of a luxury hotel-owner on the French Riviera.

Jacqueline Veyrac, millionaire proprietor of the Grand Hotel in Cannes, was seized last Monday on a street in central Nice.

Two days later she was freed after being spotted by a passerby on a road in hills above the city. She was bound and gagged and lying on the floor of a parked van.

The passerby had been drawn to the vehicle because one of its registration plates was hanging off - revealing a second plate underneath.

On Sunday, the state prosecutor in Nice praised Mme Veyrac's courage throughout her two-day ordeal, all of it spent on the floor of the van.

"She never gave up. She showed exceptional character," said Jean-Michel Pretre.

Twice the 76 year old managed to wriggle out of the plastic cords binding her hands and ankles, but each time her captors spotted her.

Throughout her captivity she refused to eat the food she was offered, and took only water.

Unusual cast

According to the prosecutor, six people have been arrested and placed under investigation for kidnap and extortion. A seventh man - a former policeman - faces the lesser charge of not reporting a crime. Five of the seven remain in custody.

The main suspect is Giuseppe Serena, a 63-year-old businessman and restaurateur from Italy, who used to run the famous La Reserve restaurant on a promontory above Nice harbour. La Reserve is a Nice landmark - and also belongs to the Veyrac family.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jacqueline Veyrac co-owns the five-star Grand Hotel in Cannes
Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption La Reserve is now under new management

According to the prosecutor, Mr Serena bore a grudge against Mme Veyrac, who he blamed for the collapse of his venture at La Reserve.

In 2007, he had signed a contract to run the restaurant in partnership with Finnish chef Jouni Tormanen. The two had previously controlled the Michelin-starred L'Atelier du Gout in Nice.

But by 2009 La Reserve was crippled with debt. They scaled back the operation, but too late, and their company was eventually declared bankrupt. Today La Reserve is under a new team.

According to the prosecutor, Mr Serena was planning to issue a ransom demand to the Veyrac family in order to recover the large sum of money he says he lost in La Reserve.

To plan the kidnap, he allegedly recruited an unusual cast of characters.

They included a man named by the prosecutor as Luc G, nicknamed "Tintin", a former paparazzo turned private detective whose task - according to the prosecutor - was to place GPS tracer beacons on Mme Veyrac's car.

Another alleged recruit was a Briton living rough on the Promenade des Anglais - the Nice seaside drive that was the scene of last July's deadly lorry attack.

This man allegedly claimed to have served with UK special forces and was given the job of tracking Mme Veyrac's movements. The others indicted are said to have carried out the kidnap.

Police are trying to see if there is a link with a previous failed kidnap attempt on Mme Veyrac in 2013.

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