Marseille police unit deeply corrupt: prosecutor

Fri Oct 5, 2012 2:55pm EDT
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By Francois Revilla

MARSEILLE (Reuters) - A police unit in Marseille assigned to tackle spiraling 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 organized 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 many French cities, and the need to be seen to be tough on crime.   Continued...

A police car leaves the Anti Criminal Brigade (Bac) at the North Districts Police station in Marseille, October 5, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer