An armed man stole jewels with an estimated value of €40 million (HK$409 million) in broad daylight at a diamond exhibition in the French Riviera resort of Cannes yesterday.
The hold-up, at the Carlton Hotel on the promenade in Cannes, famous for its annual film festival, would be the second-largest ever in France if the value of the jewels is confirmed.
Authorities said the robbery took place around noon local time and targeted an exhibition titled "Extraordinary Diamonds" by the prestigious Leviev diamond house, which is owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
A lone gunman managed to evade security and escape with a briefcase containing the jewels, according to the initial findings of the investigation.
Several police officers were placed in front of the Carlton exhibition room to prevent journalists and photographers gathered at the scene from entering.
According to authorities, the gunman was wearing a "bandana or scarf" and a cap and was brandishing an automatic weapon.
He escaped with several satchels of jewels as well as diamond-encrusted watches, the prosecutors' office added.
"Everything happened very quickly and without violence," the prosecutors said.
The Carlton was the location for Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 Oscar-winning thriller To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
The luxury hotel is situated on the exclusive Promenade de la Croisette that stretches 2.5 kilometres along the French Riviera - an easy getaway for potential jewel thieves.
The valuable gems were supposed to be on public display until the end of August.
Cannes has fallen prey to thieves several times recently, notably during this year's film festival.
In a pre-dawn heist at a hotel during the festival in May, thieves stole jewellery worth US$1.4 million due to be lent to movie stars. That robbery took place in the hotel room of an American employee of Swiss jeweller Chopard.
In a second theft during the festival, thieves outsmarted 80 security guards and made off with a necklace that creators say is worth €2 million.
- An Italian thief decided to carry out his crime in style by holding up two shops at gunpoint wearing an elegant blue tuxedo and a scarf. The thief, who was about 30 years old, then made his escape on a scooter with a booty of just under €1,000. Employees at the shops in the Rome suburb of Torre Spaccata said the thief looked very elegant but the outfit was a poor disguise, especially considering the current heat wave in Rome.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse