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Associated Press
Police outside the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel, the scene of a daylight jewelry heist.

Once again, European jewel thief makes out like bandit

$53 million in gems taken from Carlton Hotel exhibit

A view of the Carlton hotel

PARIS — A staggering $53 million worth of diamonds and other jewels were stolen Sunday from the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes. It was one of Europe's biggest jewelry heists recent years, police said, and one of several this year.

The hotel, an iconic structure on the French Riviera, was showing a temporary jewelry exhibit over the summer from the prestigious Leviev diamond house, owned by an Israeli billionaire, Lev Leviev.

A police spokesman said the theft took place around noon. He could not confirm reports that the robber was a single gunman who stuffed a suitcase with the gems before making a swift exit. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

Several police officers were placed in front of the Carlton exhibition room to keep reporters and photographers from entering.

The luxury Carlton hotel is on the exclusive Promenade de la Croisette that stretches 1½ miles along the French Riviera, and is thronged by the rich and famous throughout the year. The hotel's position provides not only a beautiful view of the sea, but also an easy getaway for jewel thieves.

The valuable gems were supposed to be on public display until the end of August. It was not immediately clear how many pieces were stolen.

"It's a huge theft. Anytime you talk about a heist with many millions of dollars, it turns heads and feeds the imagination," said Jonathan Sazonoff, U.S. editor for the Museum Security Network website and authority on high-value crime.

He said the likelihood of recovering the stolen diamonds is slim, because thieves can easily sell them.

"The fear is, if you're dealing with high quality minerals, it's hard to get them back," Sazonoff said. "They can be broken up and so they can be easily smuggled and sold."

Hotel officials would not comment, and attempts to reach Leviev or his company were not successful.

Several brazen jewelry thefts have taken place this year, including one in Belgium of some $50 million worth of diamonds on Feb. 18.

In that heist, the stones from the global diamond center of Antwerp had been loaded on a plane headed to Zurich when robbers dressed in dark police clothing and hoods drove through a hole they'd cut in the Brussels Airport fence in two black cars with blue police lights flashing. They drove onto the tarmac, approached the plane, brandished machine guns, offloaded the diamonds, and then left in an operation that took barely five minutes.

Authorities have since detained dozens of people and recovered much of the loot.

In May, there were two publicized jewelry heists during the Cannes Film Festival.

In the first, robbers stole $1 million worth of jewels after ripping a safe from the wall of a hotel room. The jewelry was taken from the Novotel room of an employee of Chopard, the Swiss-based watch- and jewelry-maker that has lent bling to A-list stars walking the red carpet at the film festival.

And in the second, thieves outsmarted 80 security guards in an exclusive hotel and made off with a De Grisogono necklace that creators say is worth $2.6 million.

Jewel thieves have been getting attention in Europe in more ways than one.

On Thursday, a member of the notorious "Pink Panther" jewel thief gang escaped from a Swiss prison after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s, police said.

Police say the Pink Panthers network's members are prime suspects in a series of daring thefts. According to Interpol, the group has targeted luxury watch and jewelry stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.