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French drug squad officer arrested over missing cocaine

Guardian News and Media Limited, TheGuardian Today,
BYLINE: Agence France-Presse

Paris, France

Narcotics officer held near Spanish border over disappearance of €2m worth of drugs from Paris police headquarters

A police station in Perpignan, where the narcotics officer was arrested on suspicion of stealing over 50kg of seized cocaine. Photograph: Raymond Roig/AFP/Getty Images

A French narcotics police officer has been arrested on suspicion of stealing more than 50kg of seized cocaine from Paris police headquarters in a major embarrassment for the force.

The 34-year-old officer was believed to have made off with the drugs – which have a street value of up to €2m (£1.6m) – after security cameras spotted a person resembling the officer entering police HQ with two bags, according to a statement from police and prosecutors.

The officer, who works with the Paris drug squad, was arrested near Perpignan, close to the Spanish border, where he was on holiday. He is being questioned by officers in the region before being transferred to Paris.

The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has called the allegations "extremely serious", and said the officer had been suspended pending an investigation.

"If the investigation confirms his involvement, and as soon as I have any news on the conclusions of the inquiry, I will not hesitate in taking all the necessary measures," he said.

The case has become a major embarrassment, with French media describing its disappearance as a real-life heist worthy of a crime movie.

Police sources said several searches were taking place, both in Perpignan and at the officer's Paris home. Colleagues expressed surprise at the arrest, describing the suspect as unassuming and trustworthy.

The drug cache was seized in a Paris raid in early July that led to several arrests. On Thursday, police learned the drugs had gone missing from a secure room at police headquarters, which overlooks the river Seine close to Notre Dame cathedral.

The haul had been kept in a high-security area, with security procedures requiring anyone entering the room to sign in and be accompanied by another officer authorised to have a key.

A number of elite police officers were questioned on Friday about the incident by a team from the national police's internal affairs division.

The Paris police headquarters attracted unwelcome attention in April when two elite French officers were charged with raping a Canadian tourist there in a case that sent shock waves across France.

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