Gunmen sought over airport diamond heist
Belgian police are searching for eight masked gunmen who took less than five minutes to pull off one of the most spectacular diamond heists in recent years, stealing precious stones worth about $50 million from the hold of a Swiss-bound plane on a Brussels runway.
The biggest diamond theft in recent years took place at Brussels airport just before 8pm on Monday night, the prosecutor’s office said.
The men, armed with machine guns and dressed in police uniforms, broke through a hole they had made in the airport security fence in two vehicles, a Mercedes van and a car, and they made straight for a Swiss passenger plane operated by Helvetic Airways.
Staff from a high-security van operated by Brinks had just finished unloading the diamonds for transport on the plane bound for Zurich.
The men flashed machine guns but no shots were fired as they took 120 parcels from the plane’s hold, stacking them in their vehicles. They fled at high speed back through the hole. The van believed to have been used was found burnt-out just outside Brussels.
Ine Van Wymersch, spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor, said: “They were well-prepared. There were passengers on the plane but they saw nothing of what was going on.”
The prosecutor would not comment on the exact value of the stolen parcels, believed to contain rough and polished diamonds intended for different handlers in Switzerland.
Antwerp has been a leading diamond centre for centuries, with about eight in every 10 rough diamonds and five in every 10 polished diamonds passing through it. In 2003, Antwerp was the scene of one of the biggest diamond heists, when thieves took precious stones, jewels and gold from the high-security vaults at its diamond centre. Monday’s heist was a fresh blow to the Antwerp diamond industry.
The theft raised immediate questions of how the security fence could have been breached so fast. – (Guardian service)