Jewel theft stuns French Riviera with its sheer simplicity

The $136-million heist from a luxury hotel in cannes is among a rash of robberies that have raised questions

Published: July 31, 2013 1:04:04 am


From beginning to end,the entire operation lasted about as long as a movie trailer. A lone gunman struck a luxury Cannes hotel,snatching a sack with more than $136 million in jewels in it before vanishing in the crowded French Riviera,historic promenade of the world’s filmmakers.

No shots were fired. The thief slipped through a ground floor French door that was usually locked. He fled through another side door. “He was professional and very rapid,” said Philippe Vique,an assistant prosecutor for the region in Grasse.

The theft,on Sunday morning at the Carlton InterContinental — a Belle Époque-style hotel on the waterfront where Alfred Hitchcock filmed scenes from the 1955 classic To Catch a Thief — was the second in two months on the fabled Croisette promenade; a Chopard necklace was stolen from another hotel in the midst of the Cannes film festival in May.

The robbery also followed the theft of diamonds worth as much as $350 million at the Brussels airport in February. “There have been a lot of robberies at high-end stores in Europe and France,” said Edahn Golan,a diamond industry analyst in Israel. “The big question is,How come so many thefts in Europe?”

The rash of jewel robberies raised questions among insurers,industry insiders and law enforcement agencies over whether the common thread of the crimes was opportunity,insider information or simply lax security measures.

The recriminations followed quickly after Sunday’s robbery. The ease of the theft led to immediate speculation about conspirators. In France,a number of experts in security and insurance were aghast that one man had managed to find a simple way to steal a precious trove of diamonds.

“I’m stunned a lone man comes armed into the Carlton and steals millions,” said Gilles Caudrelier,a French executive who specializes in issuing insurance. “It was too simple. Of course there was someone helping inside.”

On the morning after the robbery,the hotel,celebrating its centennial,was still draped with huge rose-coloured signs promoting an exclusive exhibition of the missing Leviev diamonds,owned by an Israeli real estate and diamond mogul,Lev Leviev.

The estimated value of 34 “exceptional” diamond rings,earrings and other jewelry was revised upward to $136 million on Monday afternoon,according to Vique,the prosecutor,who said the Dubai-based organizer of the private show increased the amount after evaluating the inventory.

It was unclear which company had insured the diamonds. Many industry experts,though,speculated that it was Lloyd’s of London,which was the ultimate victim of the Brussels airport diamond robbery; it resulted in losses estimated at $50 million to $350 million and the arrest of more than 30 people suspected of conspiracy. NYT

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