Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

May 9, 2013

31 detained in probe of $50M Belgium diamond heist

BRUSSELS — Unlike the brilliant thieves in “Ocean’s Eleven,” it appears that those behind the clockwork-precision, $50 million diamond heist at Brussels Airport may not get a Hollywood ending.

After three months of virtual silence on the matter, authorities struck this week, detaining at least 31 people in a three-nation sweep and recovering so many diamonds from the loot Antwerp traders lost that they are still figuring out the exact value.

Officials said that among the people held in Belgium, France and Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday are some with violent criminal pasts; the one person held in France is believed to have been one of the robbers at the airport. The evidence seized includes large sums of cash, precious stones and luxury cars.

“It was a total surprise for us,” said Caroline De Wolf of the Antwerp World Diamond Center, whose traders lost millions in the Feb. 18 heist. “But we were delighted when we heard.”

Six to eight people were detained in Geneva, and 24 in and around Brussels. It was unclear exactly what roles each suspect may have played.

Some 250 policemen were involved in the dawn raid in the Belgian capital, and many of the two dozen suspects were being interrogated late Wednesday. It could take at least another day before it’s clear how many will be placed under arrest, said Anja Bijnens, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

Perhaps the most important discovery was in Geneva of stones that could immediately be linked to the cache spirited away from the airport.

That theft ranks among the biggest diamond heists of recent times, and many liken it to the plot of the 2001 Vegas heist movie, “Ocean’s Eleven,” which stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, for its clinically clean execution.

“In Switzerland, we have found diamonds that we can already say are coming from the heist, and in Belgium large amounts of money have been found. And the investigation is still ongoing,” said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office. He said police had also found luxury cars.

Meilleur was scant on detail, yielding no clues as to how police got on the trail of the suspects.  

In Geneva, a police statement said that “a very important quantity of diamonds was seized” during the sweep “coming from the spectacular heist at Brussels airport.” While Belgian authorities spoke of six detentions in Switzerland, Geneva police put it at eight, including a businessman and a lawyer.

The value of the diamonds recovered was still being estimated. It was unclear how many of the other stolen diamonds are still missing.

The Feb. 18 heist was stunning and brazen.

The stones from the global diamond center of Antwerp had been loaded on a plane bound for Zurich when robbers, dressed in dark police clothing and hoods, drove through a hole they had cut in the airport fence in two black cars with blue police lights flashing.

They drove onto the tarmac, approached the plane, brandished machine guns, offloaded the diamonds, then left in an operation that barely took five minutes. Later that night, investigators found the charred remains of a van most likely used in the heist.

Despite this week’s developments, De Wolf of the Antwerp World Diamond Center said that a full resolution could still be some time off.

‘’When they were stolen, the diamonds were all in different parcels. Maybe now they have all been mixed up,” De Wolf said. “You need quite a bit of expertise to check them all — size, color, purity. It doesn’t happen in one-two-three.”

———

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.

 

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Georgia Gun Bill_Stew.jpg Gun carry rights expanded in Ga. under new law

    Criticized by one group as the “guns everywhere” bill, Georgia took a big step Wednesday toward expanding where licensed carriers can take their weapons, with the governor signing a law that allows them in bars without restriction and in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Clemson Spring Game F_Stew.jpg Clemson’s Swinney won’t change after complaint

    Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday he wouldn’t change procedures after the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter of complaint expressing concerns about the football program’s connection to the coach’s Christian religion.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1800, Congress approved a bill establishing the Library of Congress.

    April 24, 2014

  • Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • ‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in South Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen who targeted both children and the elderly left “piles and piles” of bodies — many of those in a mosque — in a provincial capital in South Sudan, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Obama_Stew.jpg Obama views mudslide scene

    Swooping over a terrain of great sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month, then mourned privately with those who lost loved ones in the destruction.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wall Street_Stew.jpg Earnings and corporate deals lift U.S. stocks

    Corporate deals and some solid earnings reports propelled the stock market to its sixth straight gain Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Economy College Gradu_Stew.jpg Job market for college grads better but still weak

    With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court TV On t_Stew.jpg Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned

    Grappling with fast-changing technology, Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in the use of the internet.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1791, the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was born in Franklin County, Pa.

    April 23, 2014

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results