Potential witnesses to an armed jewellery heist off Paris’ Champs-Elysées failed to see the suspect getaway on an e-scooter because they were distracted by the presence of one-time screen hard man Jean-Claude Van Damme on a walkabout, it has transpired.
In an ironic twist to the case, it turns out Mr Van Damme was in Paris to launch a Netflix film that involves an e-scooter chase not far from the spot the robbery took place, the Telegraph has learned.
In a daring heist on Tuesday evening, a man entered a boutique of famed Parisian jeweller Chaumet with a handgun and made off with up to €3 million worth of gems and precious stones, according to a source close to the case.
Security camera footage shows the grey-haired thief, wearing a light-grey suit, white shirt and tie, arriving at the store on Rue Francois 1 at about 5.10pm. Shortly afterwards he was filmed leaving the boutique with his stash in a white bag and departing on a green scooter that he had left parked outside.
Chaumet jewelry store targeted by a robbery, in Paris
Staff told police the lone man had initially pretended to be a customer and asked to see various expensive items before threatening staff with a weapon. No one was injured in the robbery.
Jeanne d’Hauteserre, the mayor of Paris’s 8th arrondissement where the robbery took place, described it as “mind-boggling, daring, unprecedented and regrettable”.
According to Le Parisien, one police officer called the haul “monumental”.
Potential witnesses at a nearby cafe told the daily newspaper they had failed to notice anything untoward. Many were reportedly distracted by the presence of martial arts expert and long-time Hollywood hard man Jean-Claude Van Damme at the nearby opticians.
That then fuelled speculation of a Machiavellian ploy to divert the attention of passers-by with a Van Damme lookalike.
However, speaking to the Telegraph, the actor’s Paris agent, Patrick Goavec, confirmed that he was well and truly in the area at the time of the heist.
“He arrived yesterday from the US and is staying in a hotel nearby and he went to the opticians yesterday and returned today,” he said. “I spoke to him five minutes ago and he had absolutely no idea about the robbery.”
Mr Van Damme is in Paris for the global launch of his latest Netflix film, The Last Mercenary, out on Friday in which, “a legendary secret agent-turned-mercenary comes out of hiding to save the son he’s never met”.
“The irony is it does include a chase on an e-scooter in central Paris,” said Mr Goavec. Images from the Netflix trailer show one actor in Y-fronts – not Mr Van Damme – hurtling through Paris’ Place des Vosges on an electric two-wheeler.
In his long career, the Belgian actor has “never played a jewellery thief,” according to his agent.
However, in a minor drama of his own, a jet-lagged Mr Van Damme had a lucky escape after forgetting his wallet and phone in a Paris taxi on Tuesday. When the driver failed to respond to calls, he managed to retrieve the valuables by geolocating his phone and sending a motorbike to intercept the vehicle.
Despite the apparent lack of witnesses, by Wednesday afternoon police had already arrested two suspects in Moselle, eastern France, and retrieved a “significant part” of the haul, which they were carrying, according to judicial sources.
The suspects, born in 1967 and 1977, were intercepted on board a coach late morning at a motorway lay-by in Longeville-Lès-Saint-Avold.
The Paris prosecutor said the arrest was made possible “thanks to the remarkable mobilisation of the BRB”, the anti-robbery unit of the capital’s force, without providing further details.
An investigation into armed robbery has been launched.
Founded in 1780 and most famous for its flagship store on the Place Vendôme near the Ritz Hotel, Chaumet was previously robbed in 2009, when €1.9m of precious stones were stolen.
“A lot of jewellery robberies take place in this area and around avenue Montaigne,” said Mr Goavec. “Thieves seem to like the summer season when there are less police around.”