A staggering 40 million euro ($53 million) worth of diamonds and other jewels were stolen from an Israeli billionaire in Cannes on Sunday in what’s being described as “one of Europe’s biggest jewelry heists recent years,” according to French police.
The Associated Press reported that the theft occurred at the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel which was hosting a jewelry exhibition this summer from the Leviev diamond house, owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who is also known for the vast amounts of wealth he gives to charity every year.
According to the AP:
A police spokesman said the theft took place around noon, but he could not confirm local media reports that the robber was a single gunman who stuffed a suitcase with the gems before making a swift exit. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
Several police officers were placed in front of the Carlton exhibition room to prevent journalists and photographers gathered at the scene from entering.
The AP described the hotel as being situated “on the exclusive Promenade de la Croisette that stretches a mile and a half along the French Riviera, and is thronged by the rich and famous throughout the year” and is especially popular among film stars attending the annual Cannes Film Festival.
It also reports that the hotel’s location has not only a beautiful sea view, “but an easy get away for potential jewel thieves along the long stretch of road.”
Hotel officials haven’t commented, and the AP’s attempts to reach Leviev and his company were not immediately successful.
According to a report in the Israeli paper Haaretz, the hotel is ironically “one of the settings for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1955 thriller ‘To Catch a Thief.’”
This weekend’s theft comes on the heels of the daring escape from a prison in Switzerland on Thursday by a member the notorious “Pink Panther” jewel thief gang.
Quoting police, the AP reported that the convicted jewel thief escaped “after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s”:
Poparic fled with fellow inmate Adrian Albrecht from the Orbe prison in the western 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 €330 million (£285m) 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.
So far French police won’t say how many gems were stolen from the exhibition that was supposed to continue through August.
“A full and urgent operation is under way to catch the culprit and recover these jewels. Thieves see Cannes as rich pickings,” said a Cannes Police spokesman.
The BBC reports that if the value of the jewels is confirmed at $53 million, it would apparently qualify as the second-largest heist in French history.
Lev Leviev, the owner of the Leviev diamond house, is a Jewish businessman who was born in the Soviet Union before emigrating to Israel. The 56-year-old billionaire who also resides in London is known for the massive amounts of wealth he gives to charitable causes.
The New York Times in 2007 reported that he gives $50 million a year to charity – though he himself won’t say how much he gives away – and that he admires Bill Gates for his charitable giving. According to Jewish tradition to which he adheres, anonymous giving is considered a higher form of charity.
“He underwrites Jewish day schools, synagogues, orphanages, social centers and soup kitchens for more than 500 communities,” the Times wrote in the profile of Leviev.
This story has been updated.