Fri, May 26, 2006 - Page 16 News List

Syndicate suspected of gassing, robbing Juventus star Vieira


A pan-European car-jacking gang is believed to be behind a weekend burglary at the Riviera home of Juventus midfielder Patrick Vieira, who was knocked out with gas during the raid, police said.

Six eastern Europeans, including a woman and the two suspected gang leaders, were taken into custody on Wednesday after they were caught red-handed stealing a luxury car from a villa in the Riviera town of Biot, police said.

The gang is suspected of breaking into Vieira's villa near Cannes last Saturday night, making off with jewelry and the player's Mercedes SUV.

Vieira and his wife, Cheryl, complained of violent headaches the following morning, suggesting the gang had pumped sleeping gas into their home.

The couple were unharmed in the incident, and Vieira was able to join the rest of the French football team in the Alpine resort of Tignes on Sunday, where they are following an intensive World Cup training program.

Vieira's car was recovered in Nice on Monday, and Le Parisien newspaper said police had discovered a garage lined with luxury Mercedes, Audi and Nissan vehicles, allegedly intended for resale in eastern Europe.

Police said the network -- which had been under watch for several weeks -- was suspected of a string of similar cases, including three on the Riviera.

The stolen cars were left at drop-off points, where they were picked up and trafficked abroad -- mostly to Slovenia via Italy, police said.

French police said that car-jacking by organized criminals was a major new problem on the Riviera, with the number of cases rising "exponentially."

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