Robbers in multimillion jewellery heist

Raiders pull off one of the world's biggest jewellery robberies in Paris, making off with diamonds and valuables worth ?80 million.

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Armed robbers pulled off one of the world's biggest jewellery robberies at a famed Paris store, making off with diamonds and valuables worth ?80 million (Dh375m), investigators said today. The four robbers on Thursday stole nearly all the jewellery on display at Harry Winston jewellers on the Avenue Montaigne, which attracts a wealthy international clientele just off the Champs-Elysees. The robbery was well-planned, a source from the investigating team said. The men knew the names of some of the shop's employees and the location of some hidden storage cases for jewels.

Two of the four men were disguised as women when they managed to elude the high-security surveillance system and burst into the boutique during the busy holiday shopping season. Brandishing weapons, they threatened some of the dozen employees and customers and herded them into a corner, while some of the personnel suffered blows, according to investigators. The loot initially estimated at up ?62m was revised early today to ?80m, making it by far the biggest jewellery robbery ever in France.

Police said they were dealing with "major pros" who had meticulously planned their crime and knew the boutique's layout well, suggesting it may have been an inside job. The thieves, who apparently were French-speaking, stuffed brooches, rings, necklaces and other finery in bags and quickly left, without firing a shot. No leads were ruled out including the possibility that the robbers may have connections in eastern Europe, where the loot could be sold, contrary to western Europe where such high-value stolen goods would be quickly detected.

Police described the eastern European market as a "new El Dorado for traffickers" trying to get rid of high-end stolen goods. Police were today questioning customers, employees and pedestrians to try to come up with clues. Harry Winston, which specialises in ultra-luxury jewellery, was hit by another robbery in October last year when armed robbers stole an estimated ?10m worth of valuables. An insurance company offered a US$500,000 reward for information leading to the thieves' arrest but they were never found.