Meridian Star

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July 31, 2013

Jewel heist on Riviera raises security questions

PARIS — PARIS (AP) — The diamond show was staged on the ground floor of a hotel that thieves had targeted before — and which, in fact, had featured in Alfred Hitchcock's high-karat classic "To Catch a Thief." The guards were few and unarmed, and nobody thought to tell the police about the tens of millions of dollars worth of gems on display for more than a month.

On Tuesday, questions arose about how the collection was left so vulnerable that a single thief with a handgun managed to make off over the weekend with one of the biggest hauls in history — a total of $136 million in jewels — without firing a shot.

It was the second time in a week that unarmed guards were overwhelmed by jewel thieves. At a Swiss prison near the French border, a member of the notorious "Pink Panther" gang escaped after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered unarmed guards with bursts from Kalashnikovs.

Private security guards are generally prohibited from carrying weapons in France and Switzerland — that's reserved for police — but special authorizations can be granted when high-value assets are at stake.

"It can't be standard procedure when you have that kind of value. This is an extraordinary amount of value to have in one place from one company," said John Kennedy, president of the New York-based Jewelers Security Alliance. In the United States "those shows are limited to the trade. You have to have an ID and have a pass. It's not open to the public."

With the measures in place, he said, it was nearly irrelevant whether the heist at the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes was an inside job.

"What do you need with an inside job when a guy can walk in and do this? What inside information do you need — there's a big diamond show," he said. Cannes' storied history of jewel heists apparently made little difference to those planning the show, he said, adding that U.S. insurers he'd spoken with had found the entire escapade bizarre.

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