x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Required reading: great heists

With Chopard jewels worth millions of dollars stolen at Cannes this past weekend, we look at the books to read on some of the world's greatest heists.

Chopard jewels allegedly worth more than US$1 million (Dh3.67m) were stolen from the Cannes film festival last week in a predawn heist.

The jewels were reportedly stolen from a safe in a Cannes Novotel room. A representative from Chopard, a company long associated with Cannes and which designs the Palme d’Or trophy awarded to the Best Director, had been guarding the jewels but was out at dinner at the time. It was a daring, well-planned operation, worthy of the silver screen and a good reason to reflect on past heists that grabbed headlines around the world.

Any roundup of recent heists must surely start at Bridego Railway Bridge in Buckinghamshire, England. Read the recently published and definitive Great Train Robbery: Crime of the Century by Nick Russell-Pavier and Stewart Richards to find out why.

It was just after 3am on Wednesday, August 7, 1963, when a gang led by Bruce Reynolds intercepted a train en route from Glasgow to Euston Station, London. The gang made off with £2.6 million, equivalent to £44 million today. Reynolds escaped to Mexico but returned to England when his money ran out. He was arrested in 1968.

In 1994, two paintings by J?M?W Turner, then worth £24 million and on loan from the Tate Gallery, London, were stolen from the Kunsthalle Schirn in Frankfurt. Read Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners by Sandy Nairne for a firsthand account of the recovery operation that followed.

Nairne, then director of programmes at the Tate, played a key role in tracing the stolen paintings and negotiating with the Yugoslavian mafia for their return, which was secured in 2002 after the Tate paid millions of euros to underworld figures.

But a great heist, though, doesn’t have to mean a robbery. In his blockbuster Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich tells how six MIT students used sophisticated card-counting techniques to win millions at blackjack tables in casinos around the world.

Eventually, casinos cottoned on and banned the by-then infamous MIT Blackjack Team – they had to content themselves with being depicted in Mezrich’s book and, later, the film 21, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.

 

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