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These heists are real gems

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As big-time heists go, it was stunningly simple, frighteningly fast and breathtakingly profitable.

Around noon on Sunday, July 28, a man wearing gloves, a cap and a scarf to hide his face casually entered the ground floor of the posh Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes on the French Riviera. He walked through the french doors at the side of the hotel on the famed La Croisette seafront, then strode into a jewelry exhibit being staged by a prestigious diamond house.

Armed with a handgun and as three security guards looked on, he shovelled 72 pieces of jewelry -- rings, pendants and diamond-encrusted earrings -- into a briefcase, dropping some items as he fled through a side door into the street.

The whole thing was over in a minute and the thief made off with a reported $136 million in valuables in what is potentially the world's biggest jewelry heist.

The Carlton Cannes Hotel has long been a tempting target for thieves, both real and imaginary. In 1994, machine-gun-toting crooks stormed into the hotel's jewelry shop and escaped with an estimated $60 million in gems.

More famously, in 1955 it was a central location for Alfred Hitchcock's famed thriller To Catch a Thief, in which Cary Grant plays a reformed cat burglar forced to ferret out a real jewel thief to prove his innocence.

With apologies to Insp. Clouseau, real-world heists have better plots than anything Hollywood scriptwriters can dream up, including the following five:

5

The scene:

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

The take:

An unconfirmed $118 million

The heist:

On Feb. 25, 2005, a group of thieves wearing stolen KLM Cargo truck uniforms and driving a stolen KLM truck drove up to a truck carrying diamonds intended for a flight to Antwerp, one of the world's two main diamond capitals. According to the HowStuffWorks website, as onlookers watched in disbelief, the crooks forced the drivers out of the truck at gunpoint, ordered them to lie face-down on the ground, then drove off in their truck.

Police suspect it was an inside job and have never recovered the stolen stones, many of which were uncut and difficult to put a definitive value on.

 

4

The scene:

The Millennium Dome, London, England

The take:

It would have been about $700 million

The heist:

In 2000, heavily armed thieves staged a stunning raid on the Millennium Dome, hoping to snatch the legendary Millennium Star Diamond and 12 blue diamonds. Wearing gas masks, they tossed gas canisters into the Dome, ran in and smashed the display cases with sledgehammers.

There was only one catch: The police had been tipped off. According to HowStuffWorks: "The night before the attempt, authorities had replaced the real gems with fakes just to be sure they remained safe no matter the outcome of the raid."

 

3

The scene:

Antwerp Diamond Centre, Belgium

The take:

Roughly $100 million to $127 million

The heist:

On Feb. 16, 2003, a crackerjack team of Italian thieves hit the diamond centre in Antwerp, which handles and stores a large percentage of the world's uncut diamonds. According to the Huffington Post website, the robbers rented a room in a building above the centre for two years to analyze the alarm system. They emptied 123 safety deposit boxes, but stole so many diamonds they had to leave 37 vaults unopened. Online news reports say most of the Italian thieves are behind bars, but the diamonds and other stolen gems have never been recovered.

 

2

The scene:

Graff Diamonds, London, England

The take:

Around $65 million

The heist:

It was just before 5 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2009, when two men brazenly strolled into the posh store. They had taken the precaution of having their skin tone altered by a makeup artist, who also changed the shape of their faces with prosthetics. After pulling handguns, the pair forced employees to unlock display cases and made off with more than 40 jewel-encrusted pieces.

As they left, at least one shot was fired to create confusion. In changing cars during their escape -- Oops! -- one of the bad guys left a cellphone in a getaway car. In the end, 10 men were arrested, but the glittering loot is still missing.

 

1

The scene:

The Harry Winston Store, Paris, France

The take:

An estimated $107 million

The heist:

At about 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2008, four men -- including three disguised as women -- entered the glitzy store, located conveniently down the street from a Parisian police station. Wielding a hand grenade and a .357 Magnum handgun, online reports state, the drag-queen crooks bagged up their stylish loot within 20 minutes, then walked out of the store, drove off and were never seen again.

The final scene:

All five of these heists are real gems, the kind Hollywood could never replicate this side of the Pink Panther. As for the mastermind behind the latest French Riviera robbery, we refuse to point fingers, other than to mention no one has seen Cary Grant in a really long time.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 D2

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