By Geoff Meade, PA
Friday, 5 December 2008
French police were today hunting for four thieves who carried out the biggest-ever jewellery raid in Paris - two of them dressed as women.
"They probably aren't still dressed as women," said one police source, as one of the most prestigious jewellery shops in the French capital was counting the cost of the audacious robbery which netted the gang almost £70 million in rings, necklaces and other expensive gems.
The four stormed into Harry Winston's, purveyor of jewellery to the stars and nobility, yesterday afternoon - able to identify staff by their names and even aware where the finest items, not on display, were stored.
The shop is in the so-called "golden triangle" of Paris shopping streets - the city's equivalent of London's Bond Street area.
About 15 browsing customers and the staff were bundled into a corner of the shop while the gang efficiently swept display jewellery into sacks. They virtually emptied the shop.
Police said they carried guns, but did not fire them. And an alarm system said to be linked to a central security system in Switzerland did not give sufficient advance warning for police to intercept the gang.
A special French police squad tackling organised crime - the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme (BRB) - predicted that the gems would be melted down and sold on in Eastern European countries, seen as the ripest for "fencing" stolen goods.
There was speculation that the raid might even have been carried out on the orders of East European crime syndicates.
The same branch of Harry Winston's was last targeted 14 months ago, in October last year. On that occasion, jewellery worth nearly £8 million was taken. The store offered a reward of more than £400,000 but the haul was never recovered and the thieves never caught.