Jewel heist on Riviera raises security questions
By JAMEY KEATEN
PARIS — The diamond show was staged on the ground floor of a hotel that thieves had targeted before — and which, in fact, had featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s high-karat classic “To Catch a Thief.” The guards were few and unarmed, and nobody thought to tell the police about the tens of millions of dollars worth of gems on display for more than a month.
On Tuesday, questions arose about how the collection was left so vulnerable that a single thief with a handgun managed to make off over the weekend with one of the biggest hauls in history — a total of $136 million in jewels — without firing a shot.
Zakaria Rami, a union representative at the Carlton who has worked there for 16 years, said show organizers didn’t formally advise police of the show. Only a few unarmed guards hired by the jeweler provided security in a hotel showroom site where the robber struck on Sunday.
“If police knew there was $100 million in jewelry, I think they would have put a patrol car out there,” he said.
The show was far from inconspicuous: One-story tall, bright pink banners covered the front facade of the Carlton, one of the most famous hotels on La Croisette — Cannes’ best-known seaside promenade.
The owner of the collection, Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, has said little about the theft.
, but noted in a statement Tuesday that the company was working with police and insurers.
“Leviev takes the security of our staff and merchandise very seriously and all reasonable security measures required by our insurers were implemented prior to the robbery taking place,” the statement said.
Philippe Vique, an assistant prosecutor in the Riviera town of Grasse, said there was no break-in at the hotel, and the private security guards were not armed. The gunman went in through French doors and exited less than a minute after the holdup, he said. Rami, the union official, said the suspect was not pursued.
Alain Bauer, a leading French criminologist and security expert, said the show’s organizer “could have called on the police — that in this specific case would have put armed officers in place.”
Bauer, who is currently teaching in Colorado, acknowledged there is a different mindset about the right to bear arms in the European Union and in the United States.
“Between losing several millions of euros and killing someone, Europeans’ choice has been that we’d rather lose several million euros,” he said by telephone. “The idea that having more firearms creates more security isn’t convincing in Europe.”
“In this case, it’s more a question of disorganization than of weapons,” he said.
Police in Cannes haven’t drawn any specific links between Cannes and the escape Thursday of Milan Poparic, said to be the third member of the Pink Panther group to break out of a Swiss prison in as many months.
“But the Pink Panthers are known for these brazen acts of rushing into a place, quickly intimidating the people there and getting the loot and making their getaway,” said Scott Andrew Selby, co-author of “Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History,” about a 2003 heist in Antwerp, Belgium.
For the thieves, France is a place “they’re comfortable hitting.”
Selby said it’s unlikely the bandit was working alone — suggesting he might have had a “scout” to scope out the hotel beforehand, or a getaway driver at the ready, even an adviser to help fence the stolen diamonds later on.
French authorities were poring over video surveillance footage, going back over other jewelry-theft case files and conducting other “standard judicial police work,” said Mascarelli by phone.
The Carlton featured in Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief,” which starred Grace Kelly as an heiress and Cary Grant as a reformed burglar chasing a jewel thief. The thief, at least in the Hollywood ending, is caught in the chase.
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