French police have apprehended a man they believe used an electric stand-up scooter as a getaway vehicle after stealing more than $2.5 million in jewelry from a storied jewelry shop near the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Witnesses at an adjacent cafe who could have helped identify him were distracted by the presence of actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, who had just entered a local optical shop, according to Le Parisien newspaper.
French media have likened the scooting thief to the infamous Pink Panther international jewel thief network, which preyed on historic jewelry shops and made astonishing getaways.
The gray-haired man, who was wearing a gray suit and tie, expensive leather shoes, and a surgical mask to hide his identity, waltzed into the LVMH Chaumet jewelry shop on Tuesday and asked to see several expensive pieces. Police say he made an appointment the day before under a false name, using fake documents that proved he had the funds to pay for more than $1 million in jewelry—as is required to make an appointment to see higher end pieces at what is one of Paris’ oldest jewelry franchises.
Once the jewels were on the display table, Paris police say he calmly pulled a gun and stuffed the gems into a grocery bag before swiping the dealer’s security badge to leave the locked store. He then made off on the electric scooter he had parked outside, easily melding into traffic to make his escape. CCTV images show the bags of jewels swinging from the handlebars.
“This is the demonstration of a professional,” a spokesperson for the Paris police department told BFM TV.
Jeanne d’Hauteserre, the mayor of Paris’ 8th arrondissement, where the theft took place, described the bold heist as “hallucinating, cheeky, original and regrettable.”
Police were able to trace him through Paris’ extensive CCTV camera network, but waited until he was making a rather less glamorous escape to arrest him.
He was apprehended at a highway rest stop, along with an accomplice, on a long-haul bus en-route to Belgrade. Police say the suspect, age 54, and his accomplice, age 44, had a “substantial” amount of the loot with them and were carrying Montenegrin documents—like many of the Pink Panther thieves. The missing jewels were likely sold before the men left Paris, police say.