When asked why he robbed banks, the legendary American criminal Willie Sutton replied: “Because that’s where the money is?”
Why are there so many jewel robberies in Cannes? Because that is where the diamonds are.
The Mediterranean resort now has more super-luxury shops on its seafront boulevard than any other street in the world: more than Fifth Avenue in New York or New Bond Street in London. There is also another explanation for the Cannes robbery festival, as the world discovered this week. Cannes is an easy touch.
The French national police force is accused by local politicians of stationing too few officers in the town. The municipal force cannot, by law, carry guns. Neither can private security guards.
After two spectacular jewel raids in Cannes this week – one of which was the biggest in French history, raiders scooping 72 items worth €103m (£89m) – the interior ministry in Paris promised emergency police reinforcements. They arrived on Thursday: five extra uniformed officers.
After years of talk, the Prefect for the Alpes-Maritimes department. who represents the national government locally, is also taking action. He has called a meeting next Thursday of the managers of luxury goods shops and top hotels on the Boulevard de la Croisette, the glittering Cannes seafront. They will be ordered to set up a local equivalent of the Comité Vendôme, the joint private-public security watchdog which oversees the security of jewellery and other high-value shops in Paris. All will be forced in future to step up their security and to inform the police of high-value additions to their stock or their programme of events.
The Carlton Hotel, the scene of last Sunday morning’s record-breaking raid, did not bother to ask police for special protection for its six-week long “Extraordinary Diamonds” exhibition. The masked and armed raider entered through an unlocked window, and made three unarmed security guards and three exhibition staff lie flat on the floor. Then he walked away with diamond-encrusted earrings and watches in a carrying case small enough to travel as cabin baggage on a cut-price airline.
The stolen jewels were made by the luxury jeweller Chopard and were destined for a temporary exhibition in the hotel lobby organised by Leviev, a firm owned by the London-based Russian-Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. The raid was “extraordinary” indeed; but extraordinarily simple rather than truly spectacular. The occasional jewel raid was once regarded by the people of Cannes almost as a romantic event – an addition to the town’s reputation for opulence. Alfred Hitchcock had, after all, chosen the Carlton as the setting for his 1955 comedy-thriller To Catch A Thief, about diamond thieves on the Riviera.
The events of last week, all parties agree, were an embarrassment. In the past decade, Cannes, even more than Nice or Antibes, has become the resort of choice for the Middle Eastern and Russian super-rich. Municipal officials and the shop owners now fear that the billionaires, concerned for their security, may move elsewhere.
There had already been two big diamond heists during the Cannes Film Festival in May. The Carlton raid was followed on Wednesday by a €1.5m raid at the Kronometry watch shop opposite the famous entrance steps of the Palais des Festivals, where movie stars, and would-be movie stars, pose for photographs each spring. The two young raiders stole 100 watches, some worth at least €100,000, after threatening staff with a grenade and a handgun.
David Lisnard, the chief deputy mayor of Cannes, said: “We shouldn’t be surprised by armed thefts. They have always existed… Now that the [Boulevard de la] Croisette is the richest street in the world, it is bound to attract coveting eyes. In a way, it adds to the fame of the Croisette. But we must not underestimate the impact either. All this publicity this week has been, undeniably, negative. There is a threat to image of the town and, finally, to visitor numbers and jobs.”
Petty crime in Cannes has never been so low, he pointed out. Visitors to the town are probably safer than they have ever been. It is the staff of luxury shops who are exposed to “grave dangers”.
Walter Ronchetti, boss of Kronometry, which was also targeted by robbers in February, warned that luxury shops would begin to close if the thefts continued. “It’s time people opened their eyes,” he told the newspaper Le Figaro. “The day when there are no longer any luxury brand shops on the Croisette, Cannes will no longer be Cannes.”