Paris, France: A summary of the trial against Claudio Lavazza
(4th-8th of November 2019)
Paris, France: A summary of the trial against Claudio Lavazza (4th-8th of November 2019)
Claudio Lavazza, rebel, anarchist, bank robber and gentleman, who during the ‘70s in Italy participated in the struggle against State and Capital, arms in hand. Contrary to the sinkers of subversion of those years, he never exchanged the desire to overthrow everything for a political career. Nor has he resigned, nor sought refuge in other States, which could have granted him a controlled freedom. No, he kept fighting, against winds and tides.
After 16 years on the run, never renouncing to his anarchist coherence, nor to the joy of living as a free man, in 1996 he is arrested after a bank robbery in Cordoba, Spain, during which three comrades, including Claudio, will be seriously injured and two policewomen will lose their lives. Claudio will thus be locked up in the special regime F.I.E.S., and even in this deadly place he will continue his battle with firmness and perseverance.
After serving 22 years in the Spanish dungeons, in the summer of 2018 he is extradited – on loan, since his sentence in Spain is not yet finished – toward France, to face trial for a bank robbery at the expense of the National Bank of Saint-Nazaire, which took place in 1986. For this robbery, he was already sentenced, in absentia, to 30 years of prison.
If going to take money where there is plenty is always a possibility, as a refusal to the blackmail of work and exploitation, in order to seize the necessary means to carry out a struggle against the State, back then, in Saint-Nazaire, the tightrope robbers did not just touch any safe. They expropriated the State’s vault! Lightning of almost 26 million euros the pockets of those who oil the gears of power.
Through countless smiles and strife, Claudio opened his path, even when faced with the most adverse conditions, when everything was to be built and imagined. As an anarchist, his passion is freedom; his enemy power. And there is no time to waste when one is armed with this conscience: it is up to each one of us to forge our own path, to undermine, harm, expropriate and destroy everything that belongs to power, its structures and its men.
The following is a brief summary of the 5 days of trial which took place in the Palais de Justice of Paris between the 4th and 8th of November 2019. At each session, those present and in solidarity with Claudio were padded down, put through a metal detector and identified. In the surrounding area of the courthouse, French cops, who spoke Italian, didn’t waste any time in following people and stopping them to check their documents.
Claudio seems in good spirits, smiling and enthusiast to see us. The shape of the courtroom made it possible to assist to this farce only a few metres away from him. Despite the intrusive presence of the police was relentless, we manage to exchange some smiles, greetings and reciprocal affection.
Monday November 4th
Firstly, the court is composed: 6 jurors are drawn (from a pool of 28 that had been summoned), who are added to the three judges. Out of the 9 members of the court, a verdict will be reached with a two-third majority. In addition to the public prosecutor, two other lawyers represent the civil action that is included in the trial. One represents the Bank of France, while the other the family of the employee who was accidentally injured during the robbery by a gunshot to his leg.
The full charges against Claudio are read: he is accused of armed robbery and hostage taking (during the robbery). The summonses of all the witnesses are confirmed – many of whom did not show up.
At this point the presiding judge, in a dragging and dreadful voice, his apathetic figure sadder than the gray, cold sky of Paris, manages to put to sleep half of the room, although he retraces the phases of the most important bank robbery in post-war French history. He gives an overview of the file, the different phases of the investigation and the judicial outcomes of the robbery against the Bank of France of Saint Nazaire, which took place on the July 5th, 1986.
Different witnesses will parade through the courtroom, employees of the bank at the time of the robbery. They all have vague memories, all mentioning that the robbers forced them to move the bags full of money from the vault to the cars parked outside (2 cars and one van, “overflowing with money”). No one made any changes to the statements they gave 33 years ago. In those days the bank was under construction, there were few cameras installed, apparently the new cctv system was going to be installed a few days later…
The prosecutor demands to add to the file some excerpts from the book “Ma peste de vie”, Claudio’s autobiography, recently published in French for this trial. In fact the whole book will be put on file, the next day a photocopy of the book will be present on all the desks of the court.
At the end of this first day the sons of the wounded employee will take the stand. One is a cop, while the other works at the Bank of France. It is added that they witnessed the robbery as children, because the teller (their father) and his family were sort of permanent “guardians” of the bank.
(On the 15th of July, the wounded employee received, while still in hospital a package with two videocassettes, Love on a Pillow and Raiders of the lost arc, some cigars and Chanel n.5 perfume for his wife. A note read: “once again, our sincere apologies of this grueling night”).
Tuesday November 5th
The morning begins with the statement of the psychologist working for the French prison Fleury-Mérogis, where Claudio has been detained since more than a year. She explains her psychological assessment, she is pushed by the prosecution and by the lawyers of the bank to agree with their thesis of the supposed “violent” character of Claudio, referring to specific facts of the past, to no avail. She describes Claudio as a resolute person, solid, gentle and who does not present deviant behaviour.
The judge will then ask Claudio to talk about his life, beginning from childhood. Claudio invites the court to read his book (Ma peste de vie – Pestifera la mia vita), stating that he wrote it to explain his path of struggle as an anarchist and as a historical document about a revolutionary time. He quickly retraces his life, from childhood to when he became an anarchist. The judge will insist on more than one occasion that he explains his Italian conviction (member of an armed group, subversive association, aid in prison escape, illegal possession of weapons, robbery, murder of two policemen and so on…) and his Spanish one (bank robbery in Cordoba, in which two policewomen died, in addition to six other robberies, in a sentence to 25 years).
The public prosecutor then takes a moment to read out-loud a passage from the autobiography, which she obviously considers most scandalous: “I have fulfilled almost all of my dreams, and often I compare my existence with the factory worker I would have been, had I stayed in my home town. Surely now, like my old schoolmates, I would be married with children, with the obligation to work ten hours a day to support the family. In the evening after work, exhausted, I would spend the last hours of the day staring into that idiot box, comfortably seated on a sofa, and then go to bed, destroyed and exhausted… probably now I would not be in prison… but, even if it were possible to go back, I would not change by a millimeter the path I chose. What would have happened to me if the light of struggle had not illuminated my path?”.
She presents this passage as iron-clad evidence that Claudio is not ready to be released from prison. Given that in Spain, upon an eventual release, he has arranged to work for an association teaching jiu-jitsu to teenagers and women, the public prosecutor is appalled by this prospect. She claims that he is not the right person to help the “weak”, because of this violent nature.
The civil suit lawyer will take it even further, reading in its entirety a passage from the autobiography that recounts an episode during the time in France when Claudio practiced martial arts and, during a sparring session, he “broke the rules”, injuring his opponent and costing him the expulsion from the gym. These are the levels of personal disrepute that Claudio will be faced with during the whole trial.
The defense lawyer will also quote some parts of the autobiography, to show the selective use of these quotes.
Much time is then taken to examine Claudio’s judiciary affairs in Italy (he received one life sentence in a trial he did not attend, solely based on the statement of a snitch). Claudio admits to having participated in the prison escape in Frosinone of Cesare Battisti. He defines freeing someone from the dungeons of the State as a “humanitarian” act. The judge then talks about his situation in Spain, specifically in regards to his possible extradition.
Reports are provided from two psychiatric examinations. They both confirm the absence of any psychiatric pathology, highlighting the strong solidarity of his personality. The first one, confronted by the judge in regards to a psychiatric assessment made in Spain, which defined him as a violent and impulsive person, refutes this diagnosis, distinguishing violence either as an individual attitude or a choice to be exercised in the context of an action, categorizing Claudio in the latter. The second psychiatrist talks about Claudio’s relationship to his anarchist idea as the justification of his actions. It is often the case in courtrooms and on the desks of criminologists – the specialists in the service of power – that we see their caged brains try to trace and frame the psychology of an “anarchist”.
Then comes the moment of a parade of police officers that take the stand. They participated and built their careers on investigating the times of “great banditry”, many of whom personally were involved in the investigation of this case.
Bernard Mondo, director of the OCRB (Central Office for the Repression of Banditism) talks for three hours about the ties between the Italian extreme left and the great banditry in France. He explains that these ties were rare, but occurring.
Other investigators talk about the raids they made during the investigation, while others won’t remember anything.
The accountant of the Bank of France, talks about the organization of the bank, explaining that certain banknotes were marked and registered, and thus can be traced.
Wednesday 6th November
A woman takes the stand that used to work in a packaging company with Claudio in France around the years of the robbery. She knew him as “Angel”. She had a relationship with a person that some time after the robbery went away. Most of the questions revolve around this person and their relationship.
The second witness of the day is a man who was arrested in Spain in ‘88 with money which was coming from the robbery. During the interrogation after his arrest, he declared that the money had been given to him by a certain Ben, who, back then, he identified in a photo shown to him by the police. Subsequently, the police matched the photo of Ben with the name Claudio Lavazza. While on the stand, he says he recognizes no one, he remembers nothing, except that this man had rather a French-Belgian accent and not an Italian one. After being put under pressure by the prosecutor, he begins to break down and starts crying. The defense lawyer asks him to explain the conditions under which he made his declarations, insinuating that he could have been lead on by the police to identify the man in that picture. He then also points out that after having collaborated with the police, all his charges fell (handling of stolen money and money laundering).
Then an other police officer will take the stand, probably at the time collaborating with the secret services. He was in charge gathering information of a list of 300 names of left-wing Italian revolutionaries who had sought political asylum in France, or were considered to be on French territory. He talks about political terrorism, gives an overview of armed struggle in Europe and of the different groups. He explains that once a month he would have a meeting with the French Minister of Justice and Italian investigators, in order to exchange precise information about Italians who had participated in armed struggle and who had crossed the Alps thanks to or in spite of the Mitterand doctrine. He talks about how they distinguished, through different codes, the Italian revolutionaries who they were willing to extradite and those who could not be arrested.
The morning opens with a key witness, whose declarations are the only tie that could link Claudio with the robbery. He is a zealous citizen, always eager to help the cops. The night before the robbery, he says he was sleeping in his car in a parking lot. At a certain point he sees some dodgy individuals park their car and put some bags in an other car, about 15 metres away. Given this tremendously suspicious behaviour, he decides to start following the cars. He follows them for ten km, then is deterred by the fact that they turn into a dark road. He shows up to the police station after hearing about the bank robbery, to describe two people. Over time his declarations will change. However after Claudio’s arrest in Switzerland, the police will put in front of him Claudio’s photo. From then on, he starts declaring with certainty that the man he saw on the parking lot is the man in the photo. This idiot also states that over the years he has had many encounters with the police that are not on record… However, since he is an “artist” and thus obviously has a photographic memory, faces remain particularly impressed in his memory (although he neither remembers the colour or the make of the car). In a previous statement he admits that the person he identifies as Claudio he only saw from the back and side. Years later, and in front of court, he says that for a few seconds he also say him from the front… This testimony takes an even more far-fetched direction when he confirms in a quite decisive and dramatic manner that he is still 100% sure, 33 years after those quick seconds, that the person he saw is certainly Claudio. The second person that he recognized that evening, and against whom he also testified in a trial for the same affair, was sentenced for the robbery.
The ex-partner of the first witness of the day appears on the witness stand. The ask him to explain some big expenses, like a trip to Miami, he had in the years after the robbery and why he left and couldn’t be found. He declares himself anarchist in front of court, refusing to answer the majority of questions.
In the evening the presiding judge reads out loud some statements made by witnesses over the years, but who couldn’t or wouldn’t show up in court. Among these statements there is the one of the owner of a restaurant in Puteaux, “La Tourre Blanche”, where supposedly some of the bank robbers met up after the facts. Back then, presented with the photo of Claudio, he said that maybe he had seen him before, but couldn’t place the time nor the occasion nor the company he was in.
Thursday November 7th
Claudio will be questioned by the judge, the public prosecutor and by the civil suit lawyers.
The prosecution will spend most of its time trying to elaborate on the context and consequences of Claudio’s arrest on the French-Swiss border, when a bag of money apparently from the robbery was found on him. As Claudio himself declares, at the time he worked for some businessmen for whom he would deposit in Switzerland various amount of money and different currencies. He would cross the border through the sky slopes. During one of these trips he is stopped by customs along with an other individual. (This second individual is the same one that was sentenced for the robbery and that the “parking lot” witness identified). The police keeps the money, to verify its origin, but lets Claudio and the other go. This verification led the investigators to estimate that out of the money they were smuggling, 30% was from the Bank of France in Saint Nazaire.
It should be noted that this episode and the witness of the parking are the only links with the robbery, there is no other evidence or witnesses that put Claudio inside the bank on the day of the expropriation.
With a quite direct and forceful line of questioning, the judge seems extremely interested in making the connections between Claudio and certain individuals from the criminal and political world. After asking him whether he knew this or that person, and being answered with a firm “no”, Claudio simply states that it is a waste of time to ask him any question regarding anyone else than himself, because according to his ethics, he will never speak of anyone else.
The afternoon will give space to the closing statements of the prosecuting lawyers and civil suit lawyers.
The public prosecutor asks 20 years.
The day concludes with the final statement of the defense lawyer.
Friday, November 8th
Claudio reads a declaration before the court. He claims to be an anarchist, he explains that in the years when he started his struggle, the threat was of a coup d’etat organized by the CIA was great, and thus appropriate means were chosen to fight this threat. He retraces his path as an anarchist, a path he has never abandoned, outside and inside prison. He reminds the French court that it was the decisive intervention of anarchists that helped liberate Paris from the nazis in 1944. The judge interrupts him saying that this was not political tribunal, and that he is only interested in statements about the case itself. (A convenient statement to make, as this entire trial has been mostly preoccupied with slandering a revolutionary era and anarchists). Claudio is allowed to finish his statement.
The court retires to deliberate and after three hours, has reached a verdict: Claudio is found guilty, based on the following evidence:
– the identification of Claudio by the parking lot witness;
– the arrest in Switzerland with the money of the robbery;
– his supposed contacts with individuals sentenced for the robbery;
– the declaration of the man stopped in Spain with money coming from the bank of France. The fact that in court in 2019 he withdrew his statement, bears no weight.
The Bank of France asks for a compensation of 12 million euros. It is estimated that at the time, the robbers left the bank with a sum that today would equal 26 million euros.
The only reason the court pronounces a lower sentence than requested by the public prosecutor is the amount of time that has passed since the events.
Claudio is sentenced to 10 years of prison.
Those who abandon the prisoners of social war, will inevitably abandon the struggle.
Freedom for everyone!
Communiqué of the robbery of July 5th, 1986, to the Bank of France of Saint Nazaire
On July 9, 1986, the newspaper Liberation received a text claiming the robbery signed by “the tightrope robbers”. 20,000 francs in notes of 200 francs (that had pierced holes through them) arrive to the newspaper to “support the security policy of Pandore et Passaquoi*. We send these pierced banknotes to help them build their police stations, their prisons, and pay their informers with 4 holes”. The robbers claim they are “not to members of Action Directe” and that “insecurity is not great banditry nor those who fight against the established order”, but “unemployment, resignation, organized misery and its consequences, drugs, Ricard and its buisiness”.
* In French, “Passaquoi” is a play on words. Charles Pasqua was the Minister of the Interior at the time, thus written, phonetically sounds like “what just happened”.[English translation from actforfree.nostate.net, slightly modified].