A staggering 40 million euro (US$53 million) worth of diamonds and other jewels was stolen on Sunday from the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes, in one of Europe’s biggest jewelry heists in recent years, police said.
One expert noted the crime follows recent jail escapes by members of the notorious “Pink Panther” jewel thief gang.
The hotel in the sweltering French Riviera was hosting a temporary jewelry exhibit over the summer from the prestigious Leviev diamond house, which is owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
A police spokesman said the theft took place about noon, but he could not confirm local media reports that the robber was a single gunman who stuffed a suitcase with the gems before making a swift exit. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
The luxury Carlton hotel featured prominently in Alfred Hitchcok’s To Catch a Thief, which starred Cary Grant as a reformed burglar chasing a jewel thief.
It is situated on the exclusive Promenade de la Croisette that stretches 2.4km along the French Riviera, and is thronged by the rich and famous throughout the year. The hotel’s position provides not only a beautiful view of the sea, but also an easy getaway for potential jewel thieves along the long road.
“It’s a huge theft. Anytime you talk about a heist with many millions of dollars it turns heads and feeds the imagination,” said Jonathan Sazonoff, US editor for the Museum Security Network Web site and an authority on high-value crime.
Sazonoff said the likelihood of recovering the stolen diamonds and jewels is slim, because the thieves can easily sell them.
“The fear is, if you’re dealing with high-quality minerals, it’s hard to get them back,” Sazonoff said. “They can be broken up and so they can be easily smuggled and sold.”
The gems were supposed to be on public display until the end of next month. It was not clear how many pieces were stolen.
Sazonoff said police would likely probe whether the heist was linked to recent jail escapes by alleged Pink Panther gang members.