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$53 million in jewels stolen from Cannes hotel

Third such theft in city this year

PARIS — A staggering $53 million worth of diamonds and other jewels was stolen Sunday from the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes, in one of Europe’s biggest jewelry thefts in recent years, police said.

One expert noted that the crime follows recent prison breaks by members of the notorious ‘‘Pink Panther’’ jewel thief gang.

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The hotel in the French Riviera was hosting a temporary jewelry exhibit over the summer from the Leviev diamond house, which is owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

A police spokesman said the theft took place around noon, but he could not confirm local media reports that the suspect was a single gunman who stuffed a suitcase with the gems before making a swift exit. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

The Carlton is on the Promenade de la Croisette that stretches a mile and a half along the French Riviera, and is thronged by the rich and famous throughout the year. The hotel’s position provides a beautiful view of the sea and an easy getaway for jewel thieves along the long stretch of road.

‘‘It’s a huge theft. Any time 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.

He said the likelihood of recovering the stolen diamonds and jewels is slim because the thieves can easily sell them

‘‘The fear is, if you’re dealing with high-quality minerals, it’s hard to get them back,’’ Sazonoff said. ‘‘They can be broken up and so they can be easily smuggled and sold.’’

The valuable gems were supposed to be on public display until the end of August. It was not immediately clear how many pieces were stolen.

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 crime scene.

In May, Cannes was struck by two other highly publicized jewelry thefts during the famed film festival.

In the first one, thieves stole about $1 million worth of jewels after ripping a safe from the wall of a hotel room. In the second, thieves outsmarted 80 security guards in an exclusive hotel and grabbed a De Grisogono necklace that creators said is worth $2.6 million.

Sazonoff said police would probably look into whether Sunday’s theft is linked to recent prison escapes by alleged members of the Pink Panther jewel thief gang.

On Thursday, gang member Milan Poparic escaped his Swiss prison after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s, police said. He is the third member of the Pink Panthers to escape from a Swiss prison in as many months, according to Vaud police.

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