Diamonds, dollars and daring theft


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Diamonds, dollars and daring theft

From London to Cannes, no precious stone was left unturned in these audacious thefts. Find out how prized possessions were taken from some of the world's most secure vaults and exclusive jewellers.

Trinkets and treasures, diamonds and dollars - what would you do to have it all? Thieves and tricksters in the following heists risked everything to win, often at the price of their own freedom. We look at stranger-than-fiction jewel thefts committed by daring conmen and disguised "damsels" across Europe.

The InterContinental Carlton Hotel in Cannes is the scene of two bold jewellery thefts.

Artful antics in Antwerp

In what seems like a plot from "Ocean's 11", a cunning gang of thieves led by Leonardo Notarbartolo, a conman from Turin, stole $100 million (USD) worth of precious gemstones from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre in 2003i. After three years of plotting and planning, the day arrived when the gang conquered combination locks, motion and heat sensors, and thick steel doors without any obstruction or detectioni,ii. The thieves even managed to deceive security guards by switching the security tapesi! After emptying 123 of the 160 safety-deposit boxes, and overconfident with their conquest, the ringleader unwittingly threw a half-eaten sandwich onto the roadside as they made their getawayii. Police matched the DNA samples from the sandwich to those responsible for the "heist of the century", but were unable to get their hands on the hundred-million-dollar hauli,ii.

In the same city, in March 2007, a certain Carlos Hector Flomenbaum faked it till he made it by charming and befriending staff at the ABN Amro Banki,ii. Successfully convincing them that he was a trusty diamond trader and all-round nice guy with chocolate boxes to prove it, Flomenbaum received a key to the bank's vaulti,ii. To the shock and dismay of staff, they learned that their beloved customer Flomenbaum had seduced them with a fake name, stolen passport and gifts, and had used his key to the bank's vault to swipe $28 million (USD) worth of diamonds from its shelvesiii. After he walked out the front door on that fateful weekend, Flomenbaum was never seen again and neither were his takingsii.

Crooks in Cannes

Over a decade ago, the prestigious InterContinental Carlton Hotel in Cannes was targeted in a seemingly violent daytime burglary. Three men walked into the hotel's jewellery shop armed with a machine guni on August 11, 1994 to snatch jewels valued at an estimated $45 million (USD)ii. Terrified staff and customers crouched on the floor as the criminals looted the store and relentlessly fired their gun at the walls and ceilingii. Much to the hotel's surprise and relief, the burglars had been shooting blanks the entire time, leaving not a single trace of their bullets in the walls of the shopii. Unfortunately, not one trace of the robbers or of their loot was ever found eitherii.

Notarbartolo's crew managed to empty out 123 of the 160 safety-deposit boxes, collecting US$100 million in precious stones.

The Carlton Hotel was subjected to another smash'n'grab job in July 2013, when a man wielding a gun managed to get his hands on $136 million (USD) of diamondsiv.

Looting in London

In 2009, from the famous Graff Diamonds in London, two well-dressed men made off with $65 million (USD) worth of jewellery in broad daylight. They threatened staff members with guns and collected 43 items of jewelleryiv. To get away, the robbers switched vehicles up to three times - they used a BMW, a Mercedes-Benz and a minivan - to foil police, but not before passing a suspicious package onto a conspiring motorcyclistv. Fortunately for Graff, and unfortunately for the criminals, they were soon tracked down from a mobile phone they left in one of the vehiclesvi.

Plunder in Paris

With similar antics to those in London, in 2008, two men and two "women" - men in blonde wigs and female clothing - walked into the Harry Winston store in Paris and forcefully took $102 million (USD) worth of jewellery from the safes and display casesii,vii. The looters had done their homework - they unnervingly knew the employees by name and where all the safes were hiddenvii.

Misdeeds in Milan

In 2008, the Damiani boutique in Milan, while preparing for a private exhibition of their jewels, was invaded by marauding thieves that entered through the boutique's basementii. How did they accomplish this? By spending weeks drilling a tunnel to the basement. The authorities had previously ignored complaints about a noise disturbance, namely a "drilling noise", made by the woman who lived next door to the store. The thieves left the premises with a cool $20 million (USD) worth of jewelleryii.

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i Kottasova, I 2013, 'Drag queens, fake beards and chocolates: Notable diamond heists', CNN, 30 July, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/19/world/europe/biggest-diamond-robberies/index.html

ii Smith R 2013, 'A Recent History of Diamond Heists', National Geographic, 9 May, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://news.nationalgeographic.com.au/news/2013/13/130509-diamond-heist-crime-jewel-thief/

iii NBC News 2007, Man steals $28 million in diamonds from bank, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/17581876/#.UnccaXBkPTo

iv Felton, A 2013, 'Stolen Cannes jewels worth close to $136M, official says', CNN, 30 July, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/29/world/europe/cannes-jewelry-theft/

v Tran M, 2009, 'Two arrested over 40m Graff gem heist', The Guardian, 20 August, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/aug/20/two-arrested-graff-gem-heist

vi Davies, C 2010, 'Four robbers convicted over 40m Graff diamond heist', The Guardian, 7 July, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/jul/06/graff-jewel-thieves-guilty

vii Davies, L 2008, 'Armed men in wigs pull off 70m robbery at top Paris jewellery store', The Guardian, 6 December, viewed 4 November 2013,
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/dec/06/armed-robbery-winston-jewellery-paris