“The Minister of the Colonies was counselled… by Stavisky”
Ukraine-born Stavisky began his nefarious activities in Russia in 1908 with fraud and swindling. Following one arrest, his father committed suicide from the shame. Prior to the outbreak of the First World War Stavisky moved to France where, legitimately, he worked as a singer, nightclub manager and then a gambler. Illegally, he sold drugs, committed armed robberies and confidence tricks. He moved to Bayonne where he was appointed the manager of a chain of pawnshops. He financed the shops by selling emeralds he claimed belonged to the late Empress of Germany. They turned out to e glass
In addition, Stavisky issued millions of francs’ worth of bonds claiming that they would be honoured by the City of Bayonne. Most of the bonds were bought by insurance companies acting on the advice of “the Minister of the Colonies, who was counselled by the Minister of Commerce, who was counselled by the Mayor of Bayonne who was counselled by Stavisky”.
Eventually, someone became suspicious and the police began to investigate the affairs of Stavisky. In 1927 he was arrested and charged with fraud but various legal contentions meant the trial was postponed and Stavisky was bailed 19 times. In December 1933 the authorities finally got their case in order but Stavisky fled to Chamonix where he died under mysterious circumstances on 8 January 1934. He had a gunshot wound to the head and it is uncertain whether he committed suicide or was killed by the police.
Camille Chautemps, the Prime Minister, was made to resign in the wake of the scandal and Jean Chiappe, the Prefect of the Paris Police, was sacked by Edouard Daladier, Chautemps’s successor. Riots broke out in Paris on the night of 6 February 1934 during which 14 people died at the hands of 800 police. Twenty of Stavisky’s associates were arrested and tried, including his widow Arlette, in 1935. Twelve hundred pages of charges were levelled against them but in 1936 all were acquitted. Arlette Stavisky later spent eight weeks performing in a New York nightspot.