Early Wednesday morning, 15 armed assailants stole $9.5 million worth of jewels from two vans on France's A6 autoroute, near Auxerre. The thieves forced the drivers out of their vans, which they used to drive away with their haul.
According to CNN, the vans were stopped at a tollbooth when the thieves used a gas to subdue the four drivers. No shots were fired and no one was injured in the robbery, according to police officials. The two vans, stripped of all valuables, and four getaway cars were found torched in the forest not far from the site of the attack.
The drivers are being held for questioning by the Central Office for the Fight against Organized Crime, which is leading the investigation. The national police force are currently using an aircraft to search the Yonne region in Burgundy for the thieves and searching the scene for remaining forensic evidence.
This incident is the latest in a series of large jewel heists in France over the last few years, including one in November 2014 on the touristy Champs-Élysées Avenue in Paris, and two at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.
Each time there is a major jewelry theft in Europe, Pink Panthers, an international jewel thief network that has pulled off some of the most audacious and glamorous heists in history, are the first suspects. Interpol has credited the gang with stealing over $348 million from a several different heists in Europe, Japan, and Dubai since 1999.
Several news sources have suggested that Pink Panthers could be behind this most recent theft. But Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology at the National Conservatory for Arts and Crafts in Paris, said that Wednesday’s heist doesn’t fit the pattern of Pink Panther gang attacks because “they don’t usually attack trucks.”
With about five or six heists per year, France is actually experiencing a drop in jewelry thefts. "That's actually low, historically. Ten or 20 years ago, we had two or three times more," Bauer said.
He accredits the decrease to the French authorities commitment to dismantling jewelry thief networks in France, many jewelry thieves now come from the Balkans and eastern Europe. Just last month, eight people were convicted for being connected to the 2008 robbery at the Harry Winston boutique in Paris when three gunmen dressed up as women stole $92 million.