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Italian Sent To 18 Years In Jail Over Kidnap Of French Hotel Heiress

The court sentenced six others up to 15 years in prison, while five were acquitted (Representational)

Nice, France:

A French court on Wednesday sentenced to 18 years in jail an Italian man accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of an ageing hotel heiress in the French city of Nice.

Giuseppe Serena, 67, was among 13 people on trial over the plot against Jacqueline Veyrac, owner of the five-star Grand Hotel in Cannes and the ritzy Mediterranean seafront restaurant La Reserve in Nice.

Prosecutors accused Serena of seeking revenge for Veyrac’s 2009 decision to terminate his contract to rent and manage La Reserve, which had run into financial difficulties.

Philip Dutton, a 52-year-old former British soldier who allegedly helped Serena and demanded the five-million-euro ($6 million) ransom for her release, was sentenced to 14 years.

Six others were also given up to 15 years in prison, while five people were acquitted.

Serena, who has been in custody for four years, had denied the charges but appeared to admit his involvement toward the end of the four-week trial.

“Never in my life did I think of treating Mrs Veyrac like a postal package!” he told the court.

“It wasn’t about hate… and it wasn’t about the money. Probably it was my frustrated ego,” he said.

Serena rejected claims by his co-defendants that he wanted to kidnap Veyrac’s son or even her grandson as part of the scheme.

Both Serena and Dutton were also accused of initially trying to abduct Veyrac in 2013.

Investigators were able to match Dutton’s DNA to traces left under Veyrac’s nails when she scratched her attackers during the first attempt.

Serena’s lawyer, Corentin Delobel, said his client was likely to appeal a “disproportionate” ruling that he called “the equivalent of a death sentence.”

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Gagged and sedated

Veyrac, now 80, was snatched on the street by two masked men on October 24, 2016, as she was about to get into her SUV, and bundled into the back of a stolen van.

One of the kidnappers threatened to kill her if she made any noise and she was forced to drink a sedative.

She was held bound and gagged for two days in the vehicle, which was parked on a quiet street, before being spotted by a passer-by and released.

All 13 accused in the plot were present for the trial and Veyrac also appeared in court to testify.

Luc Goursolas, a former paparazzi-turned-private-detective who was accused of fitting a tracking device to Veyrac’s car, was cleared of being an accomplice but given a two-year sentence for not informing the police of the plot once he knew what was going on.

One year was suspended, meaning Goursolas will not serve time under French sentencing rules.

The three suspected gang members from a poor Nice neighbourhood who carried out the kidnapping were sentenced to 14-15 years behind bars.

Veyrac’s late husband developed the Grand Hotel in Cannes, one of the palatial seafront establishments favoured by the international jet set.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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