Watch thieves prey on French Riviera rich

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 04 2012 01:15 AM | Updated as of Aug 04 2012 09:15 AM

CANNES, France - Police on the French Riviera are on the hunt for a gang who have made off with more than a million euros' worth of luxury watches, all ripped from the wrists of their wealthy owners.

The thieves have been operating on the southern French coast since mid-July.

Among their victims has been a Russian who was robbed of his 550,000-euro (673,000-dollar) "Richard Mille" timepiece as he returned to his Cannes weekend residence in a Bentley, and a Ferrari owner who was deprived of a watch valued at 70,000 euros.

The gang's modus operandi involves identifying the owners of valuable watches and then following them to their cars.

As they prepare to drive off, one of the gang whizzes past on a scooter and deliberately clips the car's wing mirror.

When the driver reaches out to put it back in place, a second scooter arrives and its passenger wrestles the watch from the unsuspecting victim's wrist.

Police believe the robberies are the work of Italian criminals.

"We are faced with an operation that is structured and organised," said Jean-Michel Cailliau, the chief public prosecutor in the area.

"We will be putting significant resources into the cross-border investigation."

Police came close to apprehending some of the robbers at the weekend. The men escaped but abandoned their scooters and a car, from which forensics experts have been able to extract DNA samples which may ultimately help to secure convictions.