France steps up border security in $136M diamond heist manhunt

Police suspect Pink Panthers in Cannes jewel theft 2:43

French authorities increased border security Tuesday as part of the manhunt for the lone robber who made off with an estimated $136M worth of diamonds and jewels in possibly the world’s biggest heist.

Investigators said checks had been stepped up on the country's borders with Spain, Italy and the principality of Monaco after Sunday's theft at the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes on the French Riviera.

Authorities on Monday raised the estimate of the value of the minute-long heist, taking it past the $100M raid on a Paris store in 2008 and making it likely among the biggest in the world. 

Lead investigator Philippe Vique, a prosecutor in the nearby town of Grasse, said police had interviewed staff at the glamorous hotel which featured in the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant.

Jewelers uneasy after Cannes heist 2:19

Officers were also reviewing security camera footage for clues, although the man covered his face with a scarf, cap and wore gloves.

“We are exploring all hypotheses,” he said.

Vique added that the lone robber entered through a French door at the side of the hotel on the famed La Croisette seafront.

It was not broken, so investigators are unsure if it was left open or whether the thief had cracked it open.

He then made his way to the temporary jewelry exhibit held over the summer by the prestigious Leviev diamond house, owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.

Armed with a hand gun he threatened three private security guards, two vendors and a manager of the sale, before shoveling the jewels into a briefcase.

He then left with 72 pieces including rings, pendants and diamond-encrusted earings, although he dropped some of the jewelry as he made his escape. 

A view of the Carlton hotel, in Cannes, southern France, the scene of the daring jewel heist, Sunday. Lionel Cironneau / AP

No customers were present during the crime.

Leaving through a different French door he jumped about one meter onto the terrace next to the hotel before darting into a side street.

The whole thing was over in a minute.

The owner of the jewels, Lev Leviev said in a statement that company officials were cooperating with authorities investigating the loss.

"We are relieved that no one was injured in the robbery," he said.

Vique said police were not currently making any link with the infamous Pink Panther gang, who in a daring raid broke one of their members out of a Swiss jail, last Thursday.

Gang member Milan Poparic escaped after accomplices rammed a gate and overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s.

Sunday's heist came two months after two smaller jewelry robberies hit the annual Cannes film festival, where many of the world's top movie stars are lent gowns and gems to parade on the red carpets and at glamorous parties.

Almost $2 million of jewelry was taken from the safe in the hotel room of an American jeweler working for Chopard, one of Switzerland’s most famous diamond merchants.

Days later a $2.5 milllion necklace was lifted by a crook at a movie industry party at the even more exclusive resort of Cap d’Antibes, near the Italian border.

The Carlton Cannes Hotel itself has proved a particularly irresistible target for thieves since it was built in 1911. 

In August 1994, three machine gun-toting crooks stormed into the hotel’s jewelry shop and cleared its shelves of $60 million worth of gems. They have never been caught.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.