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Man jailed for death of French casino heiress

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (Reuters) - An appeal court sentenced a man to 20 years in prison on Thursday for the murder of a French Riviera casino heiress 30 years ago.

Former French lawyer Jean-Maurice Agnelet arrives at the courthouse in Aix-en-Provence, southeastern France October 11, 2007 for the verdict in the trial in the court of appeals regarding the 1977 disappearance of French casino heir Agnes Le Roux. REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson

In a sensational case involving gambling, intrigue and sex, Jean-Maurice Agnelet was convicted of killing his former lover Agnes Le Roux, who disappeared in 1977.

At the time she vanished, her mother was running the Palais de la Mediterranee, a glamorous waterfront casino in Nice.

The prosecution alleges Agnelet turned Le Roux against her mother and persuaded her to sell her shares in the Palais de la Mediterranee to rival casino owner Jean-Dominique Fratoni, who was suspected of links to the criminal underworld. Fratoni died in 1994.

“This man is the only one guilty of the murder of Agnes Le Roux,” prosecutor Pierre Cortes said about Agnelet during the trial, calling him a “solitary, villainous, lying vulture”.

Agnelet, now aged 69, has always denied involvement in Le Roux’s disappearance. Her body has never been found.

Agnelet’s lawyer Francois Saint-Pierre, who had called for the acquittal of his client, said he would appeal the decision, adding there was no proof Agnelet was guilty.

“Where, when, how did this crime happen? Who knows today what happened to Agnes Le Roux? No one has been able to say that during this trial,” Saint-Pierre told the court.

Agnelet was briefly arrested in 1983 but charges were dropped two years later.

The case was reopened 14 years later when Agnelet’s ex-wife retracted an alibi she had given him for the day Le Roux disappeared. She said in 1999 she had lied at Agnelet’s request.

Agnelet was cleared by a court last December, but prosecutors won their case on appeal.