A staggering USD 53 million worth of diamonds and other jewels was stolen on Sunday from the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes, in one of Europe’s biggest jewellery heists in recent years, police said. One expert noted the crime follows recent jail escapes by members of the notorious Pink Panther jewel thief gang.

The hotel in the sweltering French Riviera was hosting a temporary jewellery exhibit over the summer from the prestigious Leviev diamond house.

A police spokesman said the theft took place around noon, but he could not confirm local media reports that the robber was a single gunman who stuffed a suitcase with the gems before making a swift exit.

“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, US editor for the Museum Security Network website and an authority on high-value crime.

Several police officers were placed in front of the Carlton exhibition room near a Cartier diamond boutique to prevent the dozens of journalists and photographers from getting a look at the scene of the crime.

On Thursday, Pink Panther gang member Milan Poparic escaped his Swiss prison after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s, police said.

According to Interpol, the group has targeted luxury watch and jewellery stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States, netting more than USD 330 million since 1999.

More In: World | International | News