Multimillion-dollar diamond heist in Brussels
By Raf Casert, AP, Feb 19, 2013
BRUSSELS (AP)—Eight masked gunmen made a hole in a security fence at Brussels’ international airport, drove onto the tarmac and snatched some $50 million worth of diamonds from the hold of a Swiss-bound plane without firing a shot, authorities said Tuesday.
The gang used two black cars in their daring raid late Monday, grabbed the cache of stones and sped off into the darkness, said Anja Bijnens, spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office.
“They tried to pass themselves off as police officers,” Bijnens said. They reportedly wore outfits which resembled dark police clothing and both cars had blue lights on top, she said.
Police found one burnt-out vehicle close to the airport later Monday night and said they were still looking for clues.
The heist was estimated at some $50 million in diamonds, said Caroline De Wolf of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre.
“What we are talking about is obviously a gigantic sum,” De Wolf said.
An airport spokesman said the robbers made a hole in the perimeter fence and drove up to the Swiss passenger plane, which was ready to leave. The robbers got out of the car, flashed machine guns at pilots and security transport workers before taking the loot from the hold, which was accessed from outside.
Without firing a shot they drove off through the same hole in the fence, completing the spectacular theft within barely five minutes, Bijnens said.
Airport spokesman Jan Van Der Cruijsse could not explain how the area could be so vulnerable to theft. “We abide by the most stringent rules,” he said.
The Swiss flight, bound for Zurich and operated by Helvetic Airways, was canceled. Swiss, an affiliate of Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG, declined to comment on the heist, citing the ongoing judicial investigation.
The insurance for air transport—handled sometimes by airlines themselves or external insurance companies—is usually relatively cheap because it’s considered to be the safest way of transporting small high value items, logistics experts say.
Unlike a car or a truck, an airplane cannot be waylaid by robbers once it’s on its way, and it is considered to be very safe before the departure and after the plane’s arrival because the aircraft is always within the confines of an airport—which are normally highly secured.