Police: $53 million in jewels stolen in Cannes

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As Christmas shoppers strolled outside, the gunmen forced store employees to strip rings, necklaces and earrings from window displays and pull more out of safes — a brazen robbery that took place in the presence of security guards and security cameras in one of Paris’ toniest shopping locales.

Also in 2008 — in February — in a scene reminiscent of the movie “The Italian Job,” masked thieves drilled a tunnel into a Damiani jewelry company showroom in Milan. They tied up the staff with plastic cable and sticky tape and then made off with gold, diamonds and rubies worth some $20 million. The robbers had been digging for several weeks from a building under construction next door.

Cannes appears to be the favorite target this year: In May it was struck by other two highly publicized jewelry heists during the Cannes Film Festival.

In the first theft, robbers stole about $1 million worth of jewels after ripping a safe from the wall of a hotel room. The jewelry was taken from the Novotel room of an employee of Chopard, the Swiss-based watch and jewelry maker that had lent bling to A-list stars walking the red carpet at the film festival.

In the second, thieves outsmarted 80 security guards in an exclusive hotel and grabbed a De Grisogono necklace that creators say is worth $2.6 million.

Mr. Sazonoff said it’s normal for robbers to gravitate to a place such as Cannes, glimmering harbor and glamorous film festival of which attract the world’s rich and famous.

“Why do thieves target Cannes? It’s simple: … On the Cote d’Azur, it’s where the monied people flow,” he said.

Mr. Sazonoff also said police likely would probe whether Sunday’s heist is linked to recent jail escapes by alleged members of the Pink Panther jewel-thief gang.

On Thursday, a member of the gang escaped from prison after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s, police said. Milan Poparic fled with fellow inmate Adrian Albrecht from the Orbe prison in the western Swiss state of Vaud.

Police say the Pink Panthers network’s members are prime suspects in a series of daring thefts. According to Interpol, the group has targeted luxury watch and jewelry stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States, netting more than $438.24 million since 1999.

Poparic is the third member of the Pink Panthers to escape from a Swiss prison in as many months, according to Vaud police.

“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,” Mr. Sazonoff said. “The theft of high-value diamonds is exactly what they do, so it’s not a great leap to assume they are on the warpath again. They are a crime wave waiting to happen.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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