Did the Pink Panther gang strike again on the weekend? The international jewel thieves are thought to have escaped with $136m in gems from Cannes’ Carlton Intercontinental Hotel on Sunday – one of the largest diamond and jewellery heists ever seen.
We thought this was a good juncture to take a look at 10 of the top heists in recent memory:
10. December 2002, Museum of Science, The Hague — $12m
A science museum isn’t the first place you’d think of when considering a diamond heist, but it just so happened that The Museon, a museum of science in The Hague, Netherlands, was holding an exhibition entitled The Diamond – From Rough Stone to Gem.
The heist that took place is one of the most inexplicable of all time, with authorities still not entirely sure how thieves got away with $12m in diamonds and jewellery, including many pieces from royal collections.
The break-in occurred at some point over one weekend, with thieves smashing a window to gain entry, yet not being heard by guards or picked up by CCTV. They gained access to six of 28 alarmed cabinets in the main jewellery room and swiftly escaped.
The heist was not discovered until the following Tuesday, as the museum was closed on Monday and had no reason to suspect anything untoward.
9. March 2007, ABN Amro Bank, Antwerp — $28m
Sometime in 2006, a sweet grey-haired gentleman going by the name of Carlos Hector Flomenbaum began visiting the ABN Amro bank in Antwerp’s famous diamond district. He became close friends with the bank staff, billing himself as a prosperous businessman and plying them with all manner of luxury gifts and chocolate.
The gullible staff were soon suckered in by this elaborate ruse — after all, who could suspect an innocent old man with an American accent and Argentinean passport, with an increasing desire to befriend the entire workforce?
“Flomenbaum” eventually gained a key to the bank’s vaults and simply helped himself, emptying five boxes of uncut diamonds and walking away with $28m. It was later discovered, unsurprisingly, that his passport was stolen.
8. February 2008, Damiani showroom, Milan — $32m
Police ignored the complaints about a loud drilling noise from a woman living next door to the Damiani jewellery boutique in Italy’s glamorous Milan — but they soon wished they hadn’t.
A ring of thieves had been drilling a tunnel into the jeweller’s basement for months. Staff were preparing for a private showing on the morning of the break-in, meaning that the store was conveniently clear of customers.
The thieves tied up the staff and easily slipped away with an estimated $32m-worth of fine jewellery. However, their haul could have been bigger — many of the top pieces were on loan to celebrities attending the Oscars at the time.
7. February 2013, Brussels Airport — $50m
One of the most brazen heists on the list.
Eight masked gunmen dressed as police officers simply cut a hole in the airport fence and drove up to an aeroplane that was being loaded with $50m of precious stones bound for Zurich. Stopping the plane, they casually loaded 130 bags into their van and car and drove off.
Since then, more than 30 suspects have been rounded up in three countries, and a small portion of the stolen gems have been recovered.
6. 1994, Carlton Hotel, Cannes — $60m
It seems that the Carlton Hotel in Cannes really needs to step-up its security. Not only was it the victim of the attack this weekend, but it was hit by the same gang, known as the Pink Panthers, in 1994.
This was a bluntly executed operation, with three masked men simply waltzing into the store at closing time and opening fire with their machine guns. Peppering the place, they walked out with $60m of assorted diamonds and jewellery.
It was later discovered — due to an absence of bullet holes — that the men had been firing blanks. How very kind of them…
5. 2009, Graff Diamonds, London — $65m
This is probably the largest diamond heist in British history, and another attributed to the Pink Panthers, suspected to predominately be formed of former soldiers from Serbia.
Two men from the gang arrived at London’s Graff Diamonds store dressed in sharp suits. Concealing handguns, they bagged 43 of the store’s top items.
The thieves failed to hide their faces from CCTV, but that was of little consequence. They had visited a professional make-up artist prior to the robbery, who fitted them with a range of identity concealing prosthetics.
However, the hapless criminals left a mobile phone in their getaway car, and were soon identified as Solomon Beyene and Craig Calderwood.
4. December 2008, Harry Winston store, Paris — $107m
The Pink Panthers once more? In December 2008, four men dressed (somewhat unconvincingly) as women walked into the renowned Harry Winston store in Paris, just down the road from the local police station.
Immediately jumping into action, they threatened the staff — whom they referred to by their first names — with handguns. They each knew the location of all the store’s secret safes and, within 20 minutes, were on their way with roughly $107m of jewellery and diamonds, never to be seen again.
3. February 2003, Antwerp Diamond Centre — $118m
However, in February 2003, 123 of the 160 deposit boxes were emptied and discovered strewn across the floor.
The clever plan had been four years in the making, with the perpetrators renting office space across the road to learn the complex alarm system and how to bypass it. They also obtained keys to the vault and recorded over security tapes, leaving more than a little hint that this may have been an inside job.
However, some members of the group, which includes characters such as the “King of Thieves” and another called the “Magician with the Keys,” aren’t as competent at their jobs as they might be — one thief left behind a half-eaten sandwich, resulting in most of the members going to jail.
2. July 2013, Carlton Hotel, Cannes — $136m
That’s right, the heist that took place at the unfortunate Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes over the weekend (July 28) was perhaps the largest ever seen. And what’s more, it was the work of just one individual.
A man wearing a cap and bandana walked into the hotel’s ground-floor exhibition room brandishing a pistol, and soon walked out with a suitcase containing roughly $136m in diamonds belonging to Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
Coincidentally, the Carlton Hotel is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 jewellery heist film “To Catch a Thief.”
Police apparently suspect a Bosnian called Milan Poparic, who recently made a daring escape from prison after members of the Pink Panther gang rammed the front gate of his Swiss prison and opened fire on guards, allowing him to slip away.
1. 2000, Millennium Dome, London – $700m (almost)
Ok, so this one was never fully realised due to the diligence of the British police, but it has to top our list, not only for the value of the gems involved, but also for the sheer James Bond-esque style with which it was (nearly) carried out.
Wearing gas masks and using an array of equipment, including a JCB earth digger, thieves broke into London’s recently opened Millennium Dome, attempting to steal the world-famous Millennium Star diamond (weighing 203 carats) and 12 blue diamonds, all of which were owned by De Beers.
They threw tear gas canisters in the entrance to prevent anyone entering the building, but the police were already inside. They had been tipped off prior to the robbery and were dressed as cleaning crew, ready to pounce once the robbers had done enough to incriminate themselves.
Yet, the thieves would have been sorely disappointed even if they had escaped with the shiny objects they sought. All of the gems had been replaced with fakes to ensure that their plan was well and truly foiled.