A Romanian known as the "Queen of Thieves" and a gang of 15 others conducted a spate of robberies at Parisian landmarks while at least one security guard "turned a blind eye", a court heard yesterday (Thursday).
Masquerading as smart young tourists taking selfies, the gang netted hundreds of thousands of euros by fleecing unsuspecting foreigners, including Britons, at sites including the Eiffel Tower, the Orsay and Louvre museums, and the Palace of Versailles.
Detectives suspected the gang had accomplices inside the landmarks, but only one is standing trial - a security guard at Versailles. The guard admitted accepting a euros 10,000 (pounds 7,300) bribe to look the other way - even warning the gang of the whereabouts of his most "efficient" colleagues.
But he told the Paris court that he only agreed to help after receiving death threats. Thibaut Cotta, lawyer for one of the accused, said other alleged accomplices believed their employers would not take action in order to protect the sites' tourist-friendly "image".
Thefts were so prevalent that in April 2013 staff at the Louvre went on strike, returning to work when police sent reinforcements.
Wearing Bermuda shorts and cameras, the gang worked in groups of three, with one stealing, another causing distractions and a third keeping a look-out. If they were caught, the thieves screamed, started fighting or even took their clothes off in the galleries to put off tourists while they made their escape.
At the height of their operation, the Louvre registered 138 thefts for the month of August 2012, with euros 138,000 (pounds 100,000) reported stolen.
The charges largely relate to thefts in 2013, but police said the gang wired around euros 700,000 (pounds 510,000) to Romania between 2005 and 2013.
Two women were among the alleged masterminds: Mariana Gandac, 25, alias Cinca, and Sandra Baciu, 35, known as "the Queen of Thieves".
The pair are accused of co-ordinating around a dozen accomplices, mainly at the Louvre and Versailles. During one secretly recorded conversation, Ms Baciu confessed to "hating public holidays" as it brought more Parisians to the museums - who were of little interest to the gang.
Among the accused are a couple who say they met while stealing from the same handbag in 1994 in Rome. Police said the couple's standard of living was well above their official means, with several properties registered under their names in Romania.
The Facebook page of another defendant shows films in which her baby plays with allegedly stolen euros 500 notes.
This is the second trial in four months after eight Romanian pickpockets using the same techniques were sentenced in May.
The trial continues.