Hubert Burda Media

Catch Me If You Can

The recent jewellery theft at InterContinental Carlton Cannes has elevated opportunistic criminals to sophisticated masterminds.

US$136 Million

July 28, 2013
InterContinental Carlton Cannes
Hats off to the lone robber who crawled through the window on the ground floor of the InterContinental Carlton Cannes into Leviev’s Extraordinary Diamonds exhibition, emerging a minute later in broad daylight with $136 million (€40 million) worth of diamond jewellery. Armed with a mere semi-automatic pistol and a cloth covering his face, the robber managed to single-handedly threaten three private security guards, two vendors and a manager. Even more incredulous was the fact that there was no tussle involved and the perpetrator left the hotel on foot. This is the second time a robbery has taken place in this property and the third in a span of two month that Cannes was a target for jewellery thieves. Police and experts suspect the infamous international jewel thief network, the Pink Panthers (nickname given by the Interpol), is behind this. A $1.3 million (€1 million) dollar reward has since been posted by an affiliate of Lloyd’s of London.

 US$118 Million

February 15-16, 2003
Antwerp Diamond Centre
For almost a decade, this incident held the title of most outrageous diamond heist in human history. It was no hack job. Like a scene out of The Italian Job, it was meticulously planned across a span of four years. The mastermind was Leonardo Notarbartolo, a one-time jeweller from Turin who, for the purpose of this, took on the guise of a diamond merchant and leased an office within the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. With access to the centre’s security routines, layout and alarm systems, Notarbartolo’s target was the vault antechamber located two stories underground and previously thought to be impenetrable. To get there, the thieves had to go past the private security force, infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. Over a weekend, Notarbartolo and his team systematically carried out their plan without a hitch and managed to slip past all the security measures (including a last-resort alarm on the 2-ft thick vault doors), finally absconding with the $118 million (€100 million) loot from 123 of the 160 safe deposit boxes. A few days later, while covering their tracks, the group (no doubt still in a celebratory mood) sloppily left compelling evidence (including a half eaten sandwich that was eventually linked to Notarbartolo’s DNA) that led to their arrest. The diamonds were never uncovered and Notarbartolo was given the harshest sentence: 10 years behind bars.

 US$108 million

December 8, 2008
Harry Winston boutique, Avenue Montaigne, Paris
Barely half an hour to closing, a party of four (three statuesque blondes and a man) strolled into the Harry Winston store on Paris’s prestigious Avenue Montaigne. But instead of instilling hope for the incentive-led sales staff, it was fear that they caused. Once within the cushy confines of the boutique, the ladies revealed themselves to be men dressed in drag, barking orders to the staff and threatening them with a hand grenade and .357 Magnum. Smashing display shelves and helping themselves to $108 million (€80 million) worth of jewellery, they also ordered staff to hand over diamonds kept in safes that were hidden from public view. The robbers called the staff by their first names and even knew their home addresses, alluding to the chilling reality that the men had been observing them for awhile. It took the French police almost half a year to crack this case — 25 arrests were made but only 80 percent of the jewels were recovered. This is the second time the same boutique has been burgled — the first robbery took place just a year ago in 2007, with the perpetrators leaving with about $13.3 million (€10 million) worth of jewellery.

US$28 million

March 2-4, 2007
ABN Amro Bank, Antwerp
In a bizaare case of placing trust on the wrong man, embarrassed staff at Antwerp’s ABN Amro Bank had little to say when a Carlos Hector Flomenbaum single-handedly walked away with 120,000ct of diamonds worth $28 million (€21 million). For over a year, Flomenbaum held an account at the bank and led bank staff to think that he was a successful diamond trader. He regularly brought chocolates when he returned from overseas trips, courting and eventually gaining the trust of bank staff. As a result, there was no need to crack or outwit the $2 million high-tech security system — the charming 50-something, with an assumed name and a stolen passport, had been given a key to the bank’s vault, providing him access in and out at all times. And this he did, helping himself to a valuable stash of diamonds that incuded some extremely rare blue and green stones. Flomenbaum and the diamonds remain unaccounted for.

 US$65 millon

August 6, 2009
Graff Diamonds, New Bond Street, London
Buying its place as Britain’s biggest jewellery heist, this heist saw two men getting away with $65 million (£40 million) worth of jewellery. The whole ordeal lasted less than five minutes, with the men brandishing handguns and eventually making away with 43 pieces. In a bid to fool investigators, both had gone to a professional make-up studio to have their features heavily disguised with latex prosthetics. The only mistake they did was to leave a mobile phone behind in one of the getaway cars. Ten arrests have been made and both men have since been put behind bars. Most of the jewellery remains missing but in 2012, a pawnshop in Hong Kong came across a 16ct yellow diamond that was identified as one of those stolen. The country’s second biggest diamond heist was in the same boutique in 2003, where robbers made away with $35.9 million (£23 million) worth of gemstones. Various other Graff outlets in London have been targeted in a string of robberies dating back as far as 1980.

 US$97 Million

February 25, 2005
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
It seemed like it is in an action flick: An armed gang of four men dressed in KLM uniforms entered the secure area of the airport and chased down a KLM truck that was carrying some $97 million (€75 million) worth of diamonds bound for Antwerp. The robbery took place in full view of many witnesses who reported that the thieves held the guards at gun point and forced them to lie face down on the tarmac, before promptly taking over the truck and speeding off. This is the second time in half a year that the cargo terminal was breached. Several men were arrested in connection to the robbery but the diamonds (many of which were uncut) have yet to be recovered.

 US$50 millon

February 18, 2013
Brussels Airport, Zaventem
Earlier this year, eight masked and armed gunmen in two cars bearing police markings confronted a Helvetica Airways passenger plane just as it was gearing for take-off. With all passengers in tow, the Zurich-bound aircraft had just loaded its final and most precious cargo: $50 million (€38 million) worth of uncut stones transferred from an armoured van that had come from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. Everything happened like clockwork precision with no shots fired: The robbers cut through the airport’s perimeter fence and sped towards the plane where they held the pilots and guards at gunpoint. It took only two minutes and 50 seconds to carry out the heist within the five-minute time frame between loading and take-off. Security experts described this as an inside job and seven men have since been arrested and charged. Only some of the diamonds have been recovered.

US$20 million

February 24, 2008
Damiani, Milan
Damiani has the stars to thank for containing the extent of its losses. The incident happened during Oscars season while the owners themselves were in Hollywood with several million-dollar pieces for their celebrity friends to wear on the red carpet. Had this heist taken place a week before or after, the value of the looted jewellery would undoubtedly have increased substantially. The robbers spent over a month digging their way from the basement of an adjoining building to the boutique’s basement. Dressed as police, they entered the boutique from underground and confused staff with a story that they were there to conduct checks on the store’s accounts. Eventually, the robbers tied and locked everyone in the toilet before grabbing all the jewellery pieces and escaping. Neither the jewellery nor the robbers have been found.


The Millennium Bust
On November 7, 2000, London’s Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad foiled an attempt at what would undoubtedly have been the heist of the industry’s history. Thanks to a tip off, the police were able to gather a full force of more than a 100 police officers and, as a fail-proof resort, replaced the real diamonds with replicas. Armed with automatic guns, sledgehammers, smoke bombs and a nail gun, a gang of four zeroed in on 12 huge De Beers diamonds worth almost $545.9 million (£350 million). Among these diamonds was the priceless Millennium Star, the world’s second largest known D-colour and flawless diamond that weighs in at 203.04ct (40.608g). This pear-shaped precious rock was joined by 11 blue diamonds totalling 118ct, and the Heart of Eternity, a 27.64-ct fancy vivid blue diamond. Had this heist been a success, the robbers would have escaped in style by a high-speed boat waiting for them on the River Thames.