LONDON • Jenson Button and his wife were gassed at a rented holiday villa in France by thieves who escaped with items worth more than £300,000 (S$645,000).
French police believe the experienced criminals pumped anaesthetic gas via air-conditioning vents into the property in St Tropez.
The Formula One driver and his wife, Jessica Michibata, were asleep then. Among the items that were stolen was her engagement ring, worth £250,000.
Button, 35, is a former champion with a net worth of £71 million. He is the third-richest British sports star in this year's Sunday Times Rich List. Michibata, 30, is an Argentinian-Japanese model.
A source close to the couple told The Sun: "Police have told Jenson they're convinced the burglars gassed the house using the air-conditioning units. Over the past five years, it's become an increasingly common way for criminals to raid expensive properties in the area without being disturbed.
"The burglars were in the same room as him and Jessica, rifling through all their drawers, but they weren't disturbed at all because the effects of the gas give the burglars free rein."
The couple were staying in the villa with their friends when the burglary took place.
The source added: "The first they were aware was when they woke up groggy the next morning and realised the house had been turned upside-down.
"It was a terrifying experience for them to know these criminals were actually in the room with them."
The thieves' modus operandi is to enter villas through balconies or open windows, before pumping a sedative into bedroom air-conditioning units. The gangs wear masks to avoid breathing the gas.
The source said the couple left the villa the next day with their friends, adding: "The police believe there were two criminals working together on the operation.
"They were scoping out the property for days before the raid and looking at the times Jenson and the others were coming and going from the house.
"While unharmed, everyone involved is unsurprisingly shaken by the events."
THE TIMES, LONDON