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Lone 'fedora man' pulls off massive jewellery heist

A man in a chic fedora hat walked into a celebrity jewellers a few metres from the French justice ministry produced a gun and walked away with necklaces and watches worth €6.6m.

The coolness and simplicity of the raid, completed in less than two minutes, caused embarrassing questions to be asked yesterday of the allegedly advanced security of the elite jewellery shops in the French capital.

The raid happened on Saturday lunchtime at the Chopard jewellery store in the Place Vendome, close to the Ritz Hotel and the ministerial offices of Rachida Dati, head of the French criminal justice system. An unmasked, smartly dressed man in his 50s, speaking French without a foreign accent, produced a pistol with a silencer and ordered the staff to place 15 watches and diamond necklaces into his cloth bag. The man, wearing an expensive Borsalino, fedora-type hat, then walked away into the tourist-thronged streets of the first arrondissement of Paris, close to the Louvre and the Tuileries gardens.

France has suffered a plague of attacks on jewellery shops in recent months. Jewel robberies are up 40 per cent since 2007. Some of the attacks are violent raids attributed to gangs of youths from troubled suburbs. Others have been carried out by specialist, eastern European organisations, including the so-called “Pink Panthers” from the Balkans. Police said that Saturday's raid did not seem to fit either category.

The thief appeared to be French and acting alone. “It is difficult to stop a man with a gun once he is in the shop but security systems are supposed to make something as basic as this impossible,” a police source said.

An estimated €80m in watches and jewels were stolen from the Harry Winston jewellery shop in Paris in December last year - the biggest jewel raid in French history. Four men of Balkan origin, believed to belong to the loose alliance of gangs called the Pink Panthers, carried out that raid. Since then, the security of the many high-class jewellers in Paris, is said to have been heightened.

The Chopard company, one of several jewellery stores on the Place Vendome, is a favourite with French movie stars and other celebrities. Chopard has also, for many years, manufactured the Palme d'Or, the golden trophy given to the supreme winner of the Cannes film festival each May.

Clear images of the raider were said to have been taken by security cameras inside the shop. Investigators from the Brigade de Represssion(acute on e) de Banditisme, or “serious crime squad”, were yesterday cross-checking the images against their records of known jewellery thieves. “He acted with great determination and coolness,” one police official said.