In the world of luxury, the most cult Hermès bags have built their legend around the motherhood of a female icon.
The Birkin would have been imagined in 1981 after a fortuitous meeting in a plane between the former manager of the French house Jean-Louis Dumas and the singer and actress Jane Birkin, who was then looking for an accessory suited to her life as a young mother.
The Kelly would have been baptized in this way in the 1950s because Princess Grace of Monaco would have used it to conceal her pregnant belly from the paparazzi ... The only certainty in this flood of anecdotes: these extremely rare and expensive bags, the purchase of which can be requiring a waiting list for up to six months whets the appetite of imaginative criminals.
According to corroborating sources, investigators from the 2nd district of the Paris judicial police have just dismantled an incredible network of occult sales of Birkin and Kelly bags which has developed without the knowledge of the Hermès house.
Ten suspects aged 24 to 57 were arrested on Tuesday January 26 in the 15th and 8th arrondissements of Paris on the rogatory commission of an investigating judge and placed in police custody for "money laundering and covert work in an organized gang".
For at least four years, this network, which a 40-year-old Frenchman of Tunisian origin is suspected of having managed with the complicity of several Chinese nationals, had developed a sophisticated ploy to acquire as many of these precious models as possible. .
"False" buyers recruited from theater schools
It appears that the network was recruiting "mules" responsible for legally buying the bags in the 21 Hermès stores throughout France, and even in Europe.
They were sometimes selected in theater schools or on social networks in order to give credibility to the image of wealthy customers and to defeat the vigilance of employees.
Thus some small hands - mainly women - even wore Hermès clothes and recited scenarios to justify their interest in these highly prized luxury pieces: it could, for example, be a gift for a terminally ill loved one. 'cancer…
Because to become the happy owner of a Birkin or a Kelly, you have to show your white paws: make a good impression, register on the waiting list, explain your wish ... The demand is greater than the supply: each piece is unique and handcrafted by one of the 7000 Hermès artisans, without a sewing machine.
It takes a week for the latter, all settled in France, to make a bag.
These accessories sell on average between 7,000 and 8,000 euros each.
Some models can fetch astronomical prices - a Kelly bag in white crocodile skin has just been sold for 365,545 euros in Hong Kong.
Bag forgers trial: "Yes, I betrayed Hermès ..."
According to investigations, these bogus clients for a day were paid up to 500 euros by the network to act and were constantly replaced.
Almost half of the bags sold in recent years by Hermès could have been acquired by "mules", despite the very great vigilance of the shops ... Some "false" customers have thus been "toasted" by sellers, who then claimed no longer be able to place an order.
Employees have themselves been approached by the network and, for some, dismissed by the house in case of doubt about their integrity.
Resold up to three times the original price
The obsession of sourfins to want to give an appearance legal to their occult trade was reflected even in the circuit of resale.
Once the purchased bags were passed on to the gang, the latter resold them on a parallel market for up to three times the original price!
The merchandise was sold in private and discreet showrooms, organized, in particular, in a Haussmannian building in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré (Paris 8th district), just a few meters from one of the three Parisian Hermès brands ... Contacted by advertisements upscale or by word of mouth, customers were convinced they were dealing with branches of the luxury brand.
They could then acquire real iconic pieces, with supporting certificates of authenticity, without waiting for the traditional deadlines.
Bags were also shipped to Asian countries, where demand is very high.
This parallel sales channel was nevertheless identified in 2020 and an investigation, opened by the Paris prosecutor's office, was entrusted to the “Chinese” group of the 2nd DPJ and the interministerial research group (GIR) 75. Among the ten people questioned, the man suspected of managing the network was already known for acts of forcible confinement and armed robbery.
His alleged accomplices include French and Chinese responsible for recruiting and training bag buyers, managing bank accounts or laundering money.
Investigators discovered that the money raised was indeed reinvested in real estate in Tunisia, and possibly in Portugal.
Some suspects were already known for fraud or forgery.
The police officers, who worked in concert with Henri Baggio, director of security at Hermès, estimate the profits made by the network at several tens of millions of euros.
On average, these purchases and sales earned them one million euros per month.
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PODCAST. Fake Birkin bags: the incredible company of exes from Hermès
Fake Birkin bags: the incredible company of exes from Hermès
The bags having been acquired legally by the suspects, the damage to the Hermès company, to the family functioning and very codified, is not financial, but in terms of image.
For several years, Hermès had filed a complaint regularly to denounce these actions, far from the ethics of the old and beautiful Parisian house.
During searches carried out on Tuesday in the various drop-off points of the twelve suspects, including the showroom of the beautiful neighborhoods, Hermès bags and large sums of cash - under evaluation - were seized.
Police custody can last up to 96 hours.