Brussels Airport diamond heist
Brussels Airport runway
|Date||18 February 2013; 6 years ago|
|Time||19:40 CET (estimated)|
|Location||Brussels Airport, Belgium|
|Participants||Eight masked men|
|Outcome||Approximately US$50,000,000 in gems stolen|
On 18 February 2013, eight masked gunmen in two cars with police markings stole approximately US$50,000,000 (€38,000,000, £33,000,000) worth of diamonds from a Swiss-bound Fokker 100 operated by Helvetic Airways on the apron at Brussels Airport, Belgium, just before 20:00 CET. The heist was accomplished without a shot being fired.
The robbers hid in a construction site outside the airport prior to the robbery. They were armed with Kalashnikov-type assault rifles and dressed as police officers. Entering the airport through a hole they created in the airport security fence, the robbers drove on the property with two vehicles, a Mercedes van and an Audi, both of which were black with flashing blue police lights. They drove straight to the airplane where the gems were being transferred from a Brink's armored van, which had driven from Antwerp, onto the Fokker 100 twin engine jet Swiss Flight LX789, which was bound for Zurich.
The time period between the loading procedure and the moment the plane started to move to take off would only have lasted 15 minutes according to Caroline De Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. De Wolf stated that the window for opportunity was so small that the perpetrators must have known ahead of time about the transfer procedures and timing.
The robbers stopped the plane and then brandished their guns, stopping the pilots and transport security. The Brussels prosecutors' office described the weapons used as "like Kalashnikovs", most likely the Galil. The robbers never dropped their weapons. The robbers loaded 130 bags into their cars and drove off, but left behind some gems in their hurry.
The whole robbery took about 20 minutes. The robbery did not appear to disturb any of the passengers. In fact, the passengers did not know that anything had happened until they were told to disembark because the flight had been cancelled. The van believed to be used in the robbery was later found abandoned and burned.
In May 2013, 31 people were arrested in connection with the theft, and some of the diamonds were recovered. Charges were brought against 19 of those (16 men and 3 women). In contrast to the clockwork execution of the robbery, the arrests came as a result of mistakes made when the suspects tried to sell the stolen goods. Pascal Pont, a Swiss real estate agent, was given a large sack of diamonds from his friend Marc Bertoldi, a luxury car dealer from the French Riviera, whose car was discovered in the vicinity of the robbery. Pont was investigated for his relationship with Bertoldi, and by monitoring his phone calls, police uncovered Pont's unsuccessful attempts to fence the diamonds in Geneva, which is not a city known for its diamond trade.
The trial was scheduled to begin in September 2017, but it was delayed because Bertoldi was serving a sentence in a French prison for kidnapping and could not be extradited. Bertoldi admitted to having received diamonds stolen in the robbery, but denied any involvement.
In May 2018, 18 of those tried in connection to the heist were acquitted. The case against Bertoldi, the suspected mastermind, is yet to be heard, pending the outcome of his appeal over his kidnapping conviction.
Belgian prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch said the thieves "were very, very professional". French airport security consultant Doron Levy said that he was, "certain this was an inside job", adding the heist was "incredibly audacious and well organized" and that big jobs like that were often so well organized that the thieves "probably know the employees by name".
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