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A lone man wearing gloves, a cap, and a scarf to mask his face sneaked into a diamond show in a luxury Cannes hotel and made off with some $136 million of loot, a French state prosecutor said Monday – more than twice the initial estimated take from the weekend hold-up.
Police had previously said Sunday’s theft at the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel had netted (euro) 40 million ($53 million) worth of treasure – even at that level, one of biggest jewelry heists in recent years. Reached by The Associated Press, Philippe Vique, an assistant prosecutor in the Riviera town of Grasse, said the Dubai-based organizer of the diamond show had since raised the value based on a more complete inventory.
Describing a canny – if quick and logistically simple – break-in, Vique said the suspect broke in through French doors at the hotel that open out onto Cannes’ famed Croisette, held up the participants of the show with a handgun, then fled on foot. The hold-up itself took place in the space of about a minute, and with three private security guards, two vendors and a manager of the sale-exhibit on hand, he said.
No customers were present at the time.
“He took a bag containing a briefcase and a small box, and then fled by another French door on the inside,” Vique said, adding there was not getaway vehicle. “He left on foot … it was very fast.”
Jonathan Sazonoff, U.S. editor for the Museum Security Network website and an authority on high-value crime, told the AP on Sunday that police were likely to probe whether the heist was linked to recent jail escapes by alleged members of the Pink Panther jewel thief gang.
Vique said authorities were pursuing all possible leads and reviewing surveillance video footage – notably from cameras put in place by Cannes municipal authorities. But he said there was no indication so far that the suspect had links to any organized crime group.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
A French state prosecutor now says that about $136 million in jewels were taken in that heist yesterday in Cannes. Earlier estimates were less than half that. The heist is the third and largest jewelry theft in the last three months in Cannes, and it comes just days after a member of the Pink Panthers jewel thief group escaped from a Swiss prison, though it's unclear if the events are related. The weekend heist was at the Carlton Hotel. That is the location of Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 film "To Catch a Thief," starring Cary Grant who plays, John, a jewelry thief, and his love interest, Grace Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO CATCH A THIEF")
GRACE KELLY: (as Frances Stevens) John, tell me something. You going to rob that villa we cased this afternoon, aren't you? Don't worry. I'm very good at secrets.
CARY GRANT: (as John Robie) Tell me, have you ever been on a psychiatrist's couch?
KELLY: (as Frances Stevens) Don't change the subject. I know the perfect time to do it.
HOBSON: Well, yesterday, the perfect time at the Carlton Hotel was around noon. The BBC's Hugh Schofield joins us from Paris to tell us what happened. And, Hugh, what more do we know about this theft?
HUGH SCHOFIELD: We know that there was an exhibition on the ground floor of the Carlton Hotel that was put on by this international diamond house called Leviev. In theory, an exhibition, in fact, it's a way to put - show their wares to the super rich people who are passing through the hotel. There was a certain degree of security in this sort of show area, but it doesn't look like it was very much. And a man, he was wearing a baseball cap - he managed to hide his face in some kind of bandana - he walked into this room and brought out an automatic gun. And in a very short space of time, managed to take a number of items of jewelry, then he left via the open windows onto the terrace and escaped on foot. And everyone was shocked and the man has disappeared.
And now, we're learning that, you know, this may be the biggest jewel heist of all time in France, in which case, you know, it's highly embarrassing for the hotel and for the organizers of this exhibition.
HOBSON: And we're sure that they weren't just filming a new version of the "Pink Panther" movies in the hotel.
SCHOFIELD: I think we can be fairly sure of that.
HOBSON: All right.
SCHOFIELD: There is a point here, though. I think there's a slight danger that we do over-romanticize this just because it took place in this glamorous setting, and we think of Cary Grant. But, of course, the reality is it's far more sordid than that. And, you know, who knows who's ordered this, who's behind it. I can't imagine something really that romantic about it at all.
HOBSON: Now, there have been a number of brazen jewelry thefts in Europe. In May, there were two thefts during the Cannes Film Festival. There was also a theft in February of diamonds at the Brussels Airport, $50 million worth. Why is all this happening?
SCHOFIELD: In general, I'm not really sure. But I think what we can say about what's happening on the French Riviera, I think, the point is that there is still a huge amount of wealth concentrated on that particular part of the world. The super wealthy of the world are more and more wealthy. It's not the old aristocrats. It's not the Cary Grant types and the Princess Grace's. It's the Russian oligarchs. It's the Chinese new wealthy. It's the Gulf Arab wealth. And so, I guess, if you're one of these emerging gangs, you know, this is where you will look to make your name.
HOBSON: The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris. Hugh, thank you so much.
SCHOFIELD: Thank you.
HOBSON: And up next, the woman whose story is told in the new Netflix show, "Orange Is the New Black." You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.