An Eastern European ‘Fagin’ who is accused of masterminding one of the biggest child pick-pocketing rings in history appears in a French court today.
Fehim Hamidovic, a grandfather from Bosnia, allegedly earned more than £1million a year – much of it coming from British tourists – which he spent on holiday homes, luxury cars and high-rolling casino trips.
He is said to have controlled a network of up to 500 young girls on the streets of Paris, whom he threatened with beatings, cigarette burns to the face and even rape if they failed to steal at least £250 every day.
Hamidovic, 60, apparently told his gang of Roma gypsies from countries like Romania and Bulgaria to concentrate on Asians, who were considered particularly easy targets, and also stole from Britons visiting the French capital.
When the criminal ring was dismantled in 2010, police said it was responsible for around 75 per cent of all thefts in the Paris metro system.
Hamidovic is among 21 defendants, including his wife and two of his sons, appearing at the Palais de Justice on charges of people trafficking, criminal association and forcing minors to commit crimes.
Hamidovic, who faces up to 20 years in prison, denies all the charges, but has been told to explain how he afforded a villa in Rome, a £55,000 Porsche Cayenne, and regular trips to a casino where he would bet at least £140,000 each time.
He has never declared any income to the taxman, but bought a second home for more than a quarter of a million pounds before his arrest.
Police believe that Hamidovic’s gang earned him more than £1million in 2009 alone, enabling him to buy Ferrari sports cars and designer jewellery including a £28,000 diamond ring.
Claiming that his references he made to his possessions in taped phone calls were purely fantasy, Hamidovic told the court: ‘We gypsies tend to boast about things that aren’t necessarily true.’
The court has heard testimonies from two girls, Carla, 14, and Fadida, 11, from the former Yugoslavia, who said they regularly transferred their Paris earnings to a safe haven in Nice.
If the takings were less than £55,000 a week, the girls said they would be ‘beaten’.
Hamidovic said the girls were part of a plot to incriminate him by a rival Bosnian gangster known as ‘Elvis’.
He even claimed that the girls had self-harmed so as to make it look as though he was responsible for beating them up.
‘There are 500 women and children involved,’ he said. ‘I’m accused in this affair but have nothing to do with it. It’s Elvis.’
Hamidovic’s lawyer, Joseph Cohen-Sabban, said: ‘He says he sells cars and that’s how he makes his money. There’s no doubt he’s paid little tax in his life, which explains his comfortable lifestyle – but does that mean the money comes from theft, that’s not at all sure.’
The case continues.