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London police make arrest in jewelry heist

POLICE say they have arrested a suspect in connection with a daring daytime heist that netted US$65 million worth of jewelry from a prominent London diamond merchant last week.

Police said yesterday that the 50-year-old man, who was subsequently released on bail, is not one of two dapper dressers captured in security camera footage released by Scotland Yard on Tuesday. The footage showed two men in smart suits being let into Graff Diamonds flagship store, where police say they produced guns, briefly took a member of staff hostage and escaped in a series of getaway cars across central London.

Police believe at least two others helped the pair escape. No one was hurt in the robbery, one of the biggest in British history.

British authorities seldom release suspects' names until they are charged.

Amateur video shot outside the store appeared to capture the men's escape and images of screaming shoppers as a warning shot is fired into the ground.

Police said the men made off with dozens of high-end rings, bracelets, necklaces and watches with a retail value of 40 million pounds, or US$65 million. A full list of the 43 pilfered items was made public Wednesday: Among the jewels was a flowing flower necklace made from 272 separate diamonds and a lavish pair of triple-hoop earrings bearing no fewer than 216 gemstones.

Although the man was arrested Monday, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said police kept news of his capture secret until now for "operational reasons." She spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy. Police declined to say what amount they set as bail.

The same store lost jewelry worth 23 million pounds in 2003 when it was robbed by Nebojsa Denic, a Kosovar Serb and a member of the notorious gang of Balkan robbers known as "the Pink Panthers." Denic was caught and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Britain's Press Association news agency quoted an unnamed police source as saying that the Pink Panthers were unlikely to have been behind the latest raid.

Asked about the matter by the Associated Press, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said only that police were keeping an open mind.


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