Masked robbers snatched an estimated 17.5 million euros ($20 million) worth of jewelry and watches from a Cartier store in Cannes in a lightning-quick heist that has befuddled investigators just a week ahead of the the French Riviera city's prestigious film festival.
A robber wearing an old man mask barged into the Cartier store on the Croisette, the city's famous seafront promenade, at around 11am on Tuesday. Armed with a machine gun, the man let in two of his accomplices while a fourth stood guard outside. The thieves shoved several matching sets of jewelry into a leather bag before zooming off in a stolen getaway Mercedes.
In an otherwise flawless robbery, the thieves dropped several watches as they fled, which were retrieved by the store employees. The getaway car was later found burned, and the judicial police tasked with the investigation have so far failed to catch the thieves. Police have also been analyzing the store's security footage. Cannes has one of the largest networks of surveillance cameras in France, with 468 cameras monitoring the city — one for every 152 residents.
Despite tight security, Cannes has a history of Hollywood-worthy heists targeting the numerous luxury stores that line the seafront. In 2013, an armed robber stole diamonds and other gems valued at $136 million from the Carlton Hotel during a private sale. The heist, which occurred in the hotel where Alfred Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant as a retired cat burglar, is believed to be the biggest in French history.
Dubbed the "Heist of the Century" by the French press, the theft at the Carlton Hotel bore the hallmarks of the Pink Panthers — an international network of jewel thieves infamous for brazen smash and grab robberies. The heist came days after suspected Pink Panther leader Milan Poparic escaped from a Swiss jail.
A few weeks earlier, at the height of the 2013 film festival, a jewel thief pilfered another $1 million worth of Chopard jewelry from a hotel room safe. The jewels were to be worn by celebrities walking the red carpet. The 68th Cannes Film Festival is scheduled to begin May 13, and movie stars dripping in diamonds are expected to overrun the city once again.
In response to the 2013 heists, the city's luxury boutiques formed the "Cannes Prestige Security Committee," which now includes more than 150 stores. VICE News spoke to committee president Jean-Pierre Venou, who called the recent heist a "minor news story and nothing more than an insurance matter, since no one was hurt or killed."
Compared to the 2013 Carlton heist, Venou said Tuesday's theft was "not that significant," and would not trigger additional security measures ahead of the festival. "There is no such thing as zero risk," he added, noting that the thieves were able to walk off with millions worth of jewelry despite the presence of a security guard and a security door.
While the police might not be unduly worried about missing diamonds, the city has, however, increased security measures in response to the January terror attacks that left 17people dead in and around Paris.
Local prefect Adolphe Colrat told AFP that Cannes' famous film event makes the city a "target," and that security has been boosted since last year's festival. Four units of French riot police and officers from the regional police force will be deployed on the streets of Cannes as back up to the 500 local and national officers already stationed in the city. Local authorities have also announced a ban on drones during the festival.
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho
Photo viaDenis Bocquet/Flickr