Police double value of diamonds stolen in audacious Cannes heist to £88MILLION
- Thief pointed handgun at staff in the Carlton during raid this afternoon
- Raiders are believed to have fled the seafront hotel on foot
- Jewellery stores on Cannes seafront are often targeted by armed robbers
Wearing a crash helmet and scarf wrapped around his face, the robber walked into the Carlton, on the French Riviera, just before midday yesterday and brandished his firearm at terrified staff.
He then strode past patrolling security guards into a bedroom where the haul was being stored and stuffed them into an executive attache before strolling casually out of the hotel.
He then made off on foot through the exclusive Promenade de la Croisette which stretches a mile and a half along the Cannes seafront and is thronged by the rich and famous throughout the year.
It also emerged today that French police were not notified that the collection of gem-laden trinkets and upmarket watches were going on public display at an 'Extraordinary Diamonds' exhibition at the hotel.
‘The man responsible for this crime apparently walked in the main entrance to the hotel and helped himself,' said one officer. 'It is usual practice for people to inform us when so much expensive jewellery is going on display but on this occasion we did not know about it.'
The stolen jewels were made by luxury jeweler Chopard and were destined for an exhibition organised by Leviev, a firm owned by London-based Russian-Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
On its website, Leviev, which opened its first jewellery store in London on Old Bond Street in 2006, claims to have access to stones 'among the most outstanding in the world.'
Chopard had 40 staff at Cannes who tried to persuade stars to wear its products. Julianne Moore, Cindy Crawford and Cara Delevingne were all seen wearing Chopard pieces this year.
Union representatives at the Carlton, which is a favourite of numerous film stars, have also expressed concern at the lack of security around prestige exhibitions.
In August 1994, a security guard was shot at the Carlton as he tried to stop thieves making off with gems in a similar exhibition.
One expert noted that the crime followed recent jail escapes by members of the notorious Pink Panther jewel thief gang.
On Thursday, Milan Poparic escaped his Swiss prison after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s. He is the third member of the gang to escape from a Swiss prison in as many months.
According to Interpol, the Pink Panthers targeted luxury watch and jewellery stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States, netting more than £380million.
Jonathan Sazonoff, the US editor of the Museum Security Network website, said: ‘The brazen drama of it is their style. The possibility of the re-emergence of the Pink Panther gang is very troubling and taken seriously by law enforcement worldwide. They’re a crime wave waiting to happen.’
The jewels belonged to London-based Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who was holding an exhibition of the prestigious Leviev diamond house in the hotel lobby over the summer.
It could not have been more audacious. The thief took advantage of the crowds and the relaxed Sunday atmosphere – he could easily have had others working with him.’
A Cannes police spokesman said: ‘A full and urgent operation is under way to catch the culprit and recover these jewels.’
Organised gangs frequently target boutiques and hotels in and around Cannes. Many of the raids turn out to be inside jobs, with staff helping thieves to locate and then steal items.
In May, jewellery worth £1million was stolen from a hotel safe during the annual Cannes Film Festival.
The 343-room InterContinental Carlton is a favourite of the stars, and is considered the ‘celebrity HQ’ during the film festival.
In August 1994, three men firing machine guns burst into the Carlton and robbed its jewellery store.
Later, it was discovered the gang were firing blanks.
There have been several high-profile jewellery thefts in Europe this year, including one at Brussels airport in February which saw £32million worth of diamonds taken.
Russian-Israeli Mr Leviev, 57, lives in a £35million home in Hampstead, North-West London. The father-of-nine started his jewellery business in a boutique in London’s Old Bond Street in 2006, and the Leviev house now runs upmarket stores in cities including New York and Dubai.
The film To Catch a Thief stars Grant as a former cat burglar struggling to save his reformed reputation by catching a new thief preying on the wealthy tourists of the French Riviera.