World Bulletin/News Desk
A police unit in Marseille assigned to tackle spiralling gang violence, drug trafficking and a murder rate that have shocked France is deeply corrupt, the city prosecutor said on Friday.
"The feeling is of a gangrene that has struck, that has touched this service," prosecutor Jacques Dallest said of the 60-member brigade policing the crime-ridden and heavily immigrant northern areas of France's second largest city.
During a search this week, inspectors from France's police watchdog division found hashish, 800 euros ($1,000) in cash, plus marijuana and jewels, hidden in false ceilings in the offices, lockers, and homes of suspects working in the northern police brigade.
"I consider it an organised system of theft, racketeering, and drug trafficking," Dallest told a news conference after 12 of 13 officers arrested this week were taken before judges. He said further arrests were likely.
Later on Friday, investigating magistrates jailed four of the 12 officers and put them under a formal judicial inquiry - a process that usually, but not always, leads to trial under French law.
The rampant crime in Marseille, as well as a similar scandal in France's third largest city, Lyon, have posed a huge headache for Socialist President Francois Hollande.
He is under pressure to tackle the breakdown in law and order in Marseille's northern parts, which have been subject to stepped-up policing since 2008, but has so far rejected political calls for the army to intervene.
Hollande, whose approval ratings have tumbled since his May election, is caught between campaign promises to help youth living in dangerous housing project communities at the periphery of ma n y French cities, and the need to be seen to be tough on crime.
The number of murders in Marseille had reached 12 as of Aug. 30, just short of last year's total of 13. The violence in the historic port's northern district takes place far from the plush coastal neighbourhoods on the Mediterranean.
Dallest described the alleged racket as "pretty much a whole catalogue of the most unacceptable schemes" that include taking drugs, cigarettes and cash from dealers and others, and conducting illegal searches of crime suspects, sharing the seized drugs and money between officers.
"There is no place for those who tarnish the police uniform," Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters.
The affair adds to a separate corruption investigation in Lyon, where the deputy police chief is accused of selling drugs.
The Marseille suspects face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
The 14 suspects, who risk lengthy jail terms, include pro-Russian opposition leaders Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic as well as two Russian nationals who will be tried in absentia.
South African Muslim leaders and civil rights groups condemn closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque
56-year-old Turkish national arrested over suspected financing of terror group
At the end of a 10-day mission to Mozambique, IMF officials expressed dissatisfaction with continuing uncertainty about debts built up by state-owned companies from loans by foreign banks including Credit Suisse.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on Tuesday ordered Moscow to pay damages over the incident, which saw 30 activists and journalists detained in an armed raid by Russian security officials after a protest against oil drilling.
Michel Barnier said after talks with his counterpart David Davis that the two sides were still at odds over Britain's divorce bill and over the rights of European citizens living in Britain.
Mustafa Akinci uses anniversary of 1974 Turkish intervention to lay blame for talks failure at Greek Cypriot door
The lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in power, voted 235 to 192 -- with 23 abstentions -- in favour of the law giving the justice minister power to select candidates for the court.
Kremlin spokesman says there was no undisclosed second meeting between Russian, American heads in Hamburg
The two sides remain far apart on the exit bill that the EU says Britain must pay and on whether or not the bloc's top court will keep jurisdiction over European citizens living in Britain, sources close to the talks said.
UN peacekeeping force in DRC says reduction is part of new military strategy
Turkish diplomatic sources say UK set to lift prohibition on carrying large electronic devices on flights
Paul Manafort, Trump Jr. to testify in session addressing a US law overseeing foreign agents; Kushner to testify separately
Ibrahimjon Asparov accused of supplying weapons, ammunition to main suspect in deadly Reina nightclub attack New Year’s Eve