The alleged heads of a Romanian pickpocketing network that used children to steal over a million euros from tourists at Disneyland Paris have gone on trial in France.
Twelve people, most of them Romanians, accused of running a child pickpocketing network that stole over a million euros during 2014-16 from tourists at Disneyland Paris, went on trial on Tuesday in the town of Meaux, French newspaper Le Figaro reported.
According to French prosecutors, the seven women and five men were part of a group of Roma that allegedly recruited or used their own children, all under 15 years old, to steal valuable items from tourists at the amusement park and a commercial centre nearby.
The alleged head of the group from Craiova in southern Romania, Marian Tinca, 57, was in charge of punishing the thieves if they did not bring in enough money, it is alleged.
His former wife, Maria Iamandita, 51, allegedly collected the money and sent some of it to Romania, where the group invested it in real estate.
Two French citizens, owners of a hotel near Disneyland Paris, are accused of money laundering in the same case.
A Chinese member of the network will also stand trial for allegedly collecting the stolen money and goods so that the children wouldn’t be caught.
The French police noticed an increase in thefts reported in the area in March 2015, over 1,000 in just six months.
They tried to dismantle the network, but the children detained by law enforcement agents gave false names, refused to have their fingerprints taken and ran away from the centres for minors where they were accommodated only to turn up on the streets once more.
A verdict in the case is expected on Friday.
Seven minors aged from 12 to 17 who were connected to the alleged pickpocketing ring were tried for theft earlier this year.
One of them was a girl who would make 500 to 800 euros per day for her family. She had been arrested 48 times.
France has reported an increase in pickpocketing incidents in recent months especially at major tourist attractions in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower was closed to visitors for a day on May 23, as employees sought to raise awareness that they had been threatened by pickpockets operating there.
Romania is one of the EU countries that face serious problems in terms of trafficking in children for forced labour and sex slavery, according to the 2017 State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.
Roma children are particularly vulnerable to forced begging and sex trafficking, as the Romanian authorities’ efforts in terms of prosecution of organised crime rings are minimal, the report said.
Romanian organised crime prosecutors announced in June that they had uncovered an organised criminal group in Iasi county, in eastern Romania, suspected of training more than 70 Roma children and sending them to France, particularly to Paris, to steal from offices, pick pockets and beg on the streets.
Prosecutors said in a statement that they brought in 120 people for questioning, including 50 minors aged from 10 to 13.
At the same time, the Judiciary Police in Paris also conducted searches and brought in suspects for questioning.
The Balkan Insihght