[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006, 17:42 GMT
French fugitive 'regrets actions'
Helene Castel
Helene Castel says her time in custody has been constructive
A French woman arrested 24 years after she fled into exile after a Paris bank robbery has admitted she was involved.

Prosecutors say Helene Castel, 46, fled to the United States and then Mexico after the 1980 raid and started a new life under a false name.

She was living as a psychotherapist in Xalapa before police arrested her four days before the statute of limitations on her case in France was to expire.

She told a Paris court she regretted taking part in the hold-up.

"When I was arrested it was like a cold shower in the middle of a heat wave," she said. "But I realised that I needed to live through this, I needed to be reborn in France to be whole."

Mrs Castel added that the year and a half of detention awaiting trial had been "very constructive".

"It has forced me to put the truth about myself into words and I do not regret it," she said. "I can say today that I very much regret taking part in the hold-up."

She is charged with "armed robbery in an organised group" and "taking of hostages to facilitate a crime," and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail if convicted.

The charges relate to the raid on a Paris branch of the BNP bank by seven masked attackers on 30 May 1980. They took hostages as the police arrived and one of the raiders was killed in an exchange of gunfire.

Trial questioned

Three were arrested and three fled - Helene Castel among them, prosecutors say.

Her three alleged colleagues were given eight-year jail sentences.

She was convicted in her absence in 1984 but under French law is allowed new trial after having been arrested.

Convicted members of the gang are expected to give evidence in the trial.

The fact that she was arrested only days before the statute of limitations relating to her case would have run out has prompted some debate in France.

French newspaper Liberation questions whether it is right to try the woman so long after the alleged raid.

It says her case raises the issue of who will be on trial - "the occasional hold-up woman who she was on 30 May 1980, or the woman who brought up her daughter, studied and became a psychotherapist in Mexico".

Country profile: France
20 Dec 05 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific