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CORRUPTION

Paris police unit dissolved as probe uncovers extortion, drug racket

French police officers from the CSI 93 unit frisk a man as they control people's outings on April 2, 2020 in Saint-Ouen, near Paris, during a lockdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus.
French police officers from the CSI 93 unit frisk a man as they control people's outings on April 2, 2020 in Saint-Ouen, near Paris, during a lockdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus. AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN

An urban police unit north of Paris is to be partially dismantled after a string of high-level investigations found officers had been systematically extorting money from drug traffickers and planting narcotics on “suspects”.

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Six police officers from the Security and Intervention Unit in the underprivileged Seine-Saint-Denis, known as CSI 93, were taken into custody on Monday, while a day later the rest of the 150-strong squad were told they would be reassigned to new positions “within days”.

The officers face charges of possession and transport of narcotics, theft, forgery, extortion of funds and voluntary violence by a person holding public authority.

A report in the French daily Le Monde said those charges were just “the tip of the iceberg”, with dozens more police from the same unit having been fingered in some 20 investigations carried out by the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN).

Police premises bugged, phones tapped

CSI are urban police units – set up in various French departments between 2003 and 2008 – aimed at strengthening security and providing support to national and municipal police during episodes of urban violence and other high-risk criminal activity.

As part of a year-long series of probes seeking to uncover a suspected system of organised crime within the CSI 93 ranks, police cars and premises were bugged and the phones of suspected rogue officers tapped.

While some of those inquiries were closed due to lack of evidence, others are expected to come to fruition within the coming days, after the six officers in custody are interrogated and their apartments searched.

Sniffer dogs have also been sent in to search for drugs in police locker rooms – including IGPN premises.

Made up of both uniformed and plain-clothes officers, CSI 93 – established by then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 – has played a major role in enforcing security in the Seine-Saint-Denis region, which experiences high levels of crime.

French riot police forces detain a protester during a rally as part of the Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality, on Place de la Republique in Paris on June 13, 2020.
French riot police forces detain a protester during a rally as part of the Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality, on Place de la Republique in Paris on June 13, 2020. AFP - ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT

Year-long series of probes

Suspicions of corruption within the unit gathered pace in June 2019, when the IGPN received complaints from two young men from the city of Cordon, known to police as a drug hotspot, who said they had been illegally arrested and beaten.

One of the men accused police of throwing a bag of cannabis at his feet before placing him under arrest, Le Monde reported. The men also allege the police destroyed a smartphone that had been used to film the incident. Video surveillance footage reportedly corroborated the accusations of the victims.

As part of numerous other allegations levelled against CSI 93 officers, another police officer is to stand trial in Bobigny in November for alleged violence against a drug dealer, Le Parisien reported.

The victim says he was "kicked in the head and tasered on the genitals at least three times" while he was taken to the police station by van.

French police officers from the CSI 93 unit control people's outings on April 2, 2020 in Saint-Ouen, near Paris, during a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
French police officers from the CSI 93 unit control people's outings on April 2, 2020 in Saint-Ouen, near Paris, during a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN

Overhaul of urban police units

Paris police chief Didier Lallement has already announced plans to overhaul CSI 93, while a territorial division of the various CSI departmental units operating in the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris is also on the cards. 

It’s understood the CSI 75 police unit in Paris will expand its jurisdiction, at least in the short term, to include Seine-Saint-Denis.

The CSI 93 scandal comes as French police face widespread backlash over alleged brutality and racism, which has drawn thousands of people onto the streets for sometimes violent protests.

While these latest accusations reflect poorly on police authorities, French media reports say this week’s developments show a strong commitment to drive out police corruption.

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