BEIRUT: A man stole $250,000 worth of jewelry from the Phoenicia Hotel’s high-end boutique Harry Khachwajian Wednesday at 10 a.m.
The incident at the Phoenicia, Beirut’s iconic hotel located by the sea in Downtown, was the latest in a string of jewelry thefts that have taken place across the city and that security sources said are likely tied to the same man. Clear footage from Khachwajian’s shop captured a color image of the suspect with dark gelled hair, wearing an off-white collared shirt, blue jacket and sporting a well-groomed goatee.
The Jewelers Syndicate has been on high alert since robberies began over the summer, Taline Khachwajian, wife of jeweler, told The Daily Star. The suspect has allegedly targeted seven jewelry boutiques spanning from Hamra to Ashrafieh and Downtown, she added.
Security sources confirmed a different number, saying three recent jewelry thefts in Beirut and Kaslik were likely linked to the suspect, who is still at large.
The suspect has depended on the same tactic in each of his robberies, Khachwajian said. He monitors the store, figuring out when only one employee is at the boutique and then distracts them by asking lots of questions and moving from one piece of jewelry to the next.
Monday morning, Khachwajian’s sister-in-law opened the boutique alone while the suspect waited at a nearby florist shop.
After inquiring about several items, the man asked to see more pieces, which the shopkeeper left the counter to retrieve.
While alone, the suspect snatched the jewels from the counter and left the shop. He took three of the jewelry maker’s most valuable masterpieces: two elaborate bracelets and an ornate ring.
“He is always distracting the person selling the jewelry; he is very restless,” she said. “Sometimes there are 10 people shopping and my sister-in-law is very aware, she controls the situation. But it was as if he threw her brain.”
The attendant at the shop described the suspect as overweight and dark-skinned. He also gave the appearance of being well-to-do, security sources said. Khachwajian claims he speaks with a fake Syrian accent to throw off the shopkeepers and authorities, but she believes he is Lebanese.
The man was caught on CCTV footage and the police have posted a photo of the him on their Twitter account to seek the public’s help in identifying him.
Harry Khachwajian, a high-end jeweler, has a second store inside the lobby of the Phoenicia, but the suspect targeted the larger boutique located in the hotel’s outdoor shopping arcade, which is accessible from the street. Thursday morning, spokespeople from the hotel had not yet heard of the robbery and were surprised such an incident could have occurred with so much security stationed around the hotel.
With resentment in her voice, Khachwajian said the lure of stealing from luxury jewelers is understandable. Even if the thief breaks down the pieces or sells them for a fraction of their worth, “he can sleep at night with $10,000 for working 30 minutes every month.”
Khachwajian advised local jewelers to ensure from now on that more than one person is manning their shop.
“He’s extremely expert,” she said. “He’s very comfortable with what he’s doing.”