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Biggest Diamond Heists

By 23.01 September 20th, 2018 No Comments

The thefts of massive numbers of cut and uncut diamonds have been the subject of some of the world’s unsolved mysteries and some people have a strange, morbid interest in idolising criminal masterminds!  Many film producers have used these heists to make believable movies. There are several high-security diamond heists on record and it remains a mystery as to how many of these thieves have literally got away with their crimes.  Staging a diamond heist is a feat that would entail months of intense scrutiny, patience, planning, setting up experienced people from a rare breed of criminals in terms of skills required such as safe-breaking, security measures, and accepting the paramount rule of ‘omerta’, the Mafia’s law of silence.

 

The Antwerp Diamond Heist, also known as the heist of the 20th century, took place over the weekend of 15-16 February 2003 in the gem district of Antwerp in Belgium. Purportedly the underground vault of Antwerp World Diamond Centre is one of the most secure in the world, having multiple security systems, including infrared heat sensors, radar, a magnetic field, a lock with millions of possible combinations, and the Centre itself has a private security force. The heist was master-minded by Leonardo Notarbartolo together with another four men, the group being known as The School of Turin.  Notarbartolo claimed that a Jewish diamond merchant hired them for the heist and that the theft was part of an insurance fraud scheme.  He claimed that they stole about $20 million worth of diamonds, gold and other jewels from 123 of 160 safe boxes, but as the vault itself was not insured, there is much doubt about his story. Allegedly the total worth of the heist was more than $100 million. Four of the five thieves were found, arrested and served prison sentences, but the stolen goods have never been found.

Another massive heist took place at the Brussels Airport, Belgium on 18 February 2013.

Eight masked gunmen brandishing assault rifles, dressed as Belgian police officers, drove a Mercedes van and an Audi A8 sedan onto the runway. They stopped next to a Helvetic Airways Fokker 100 bound for Zurich, into which 130 bags of gems were being loaded into the cargo hold from an armoured van from Antwerp. Without a single shot being fired, the bags were loaded into the two vehicles which left the runway through a hole in the security fence. The prosecutor said the thieves were “very, very professional” and airport security said it was “an inside job, incredibly audacious and well organised”. Appraisals of the value of stolen gems vary from $50 million (Antwerp Diamond Centre) to ±$460 million (Financial Times)! Should the latter value be close to the truth, this would be the most lucrative of all diamond heists!

On 25 February 2005 four armed men stole a KLM airline’s cargo vehicle at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, drove up to an armoured truck in the cargo area already loaded with diamonds bound for Antwerp, hijacked the truck and drove off! Many of the diamonds were uncut and estimates place the value as high as $118 million, amongst the highest values of stolen gems in history.

On 7 November 2000 six men attempted to steal the Millenium Star, a 203 carat diamond worth £200 million, as well as the De Beers Diamond Collection, also on exhibit at the Millennium Dome in London. The thieves, who had a speed boat ready for their escape, were caught as they had been under surveillance for other robberies.

London experienced a most unusual heist on 6 August 2009 when two men, aged by about 30 years with the aid of wigs and latex prosthetics, raided Graff Diamonds.  They brandished hand guns and took employees as hostages, forcing them to hand over 43 pieces of jewelry worth $65 million. These members of the infamous ‘Pink Panthers’ gang escaped in a series of getaway cars, but were eventually traced by the police through a cell phone left in one the cars. This is supposedly the largest jewel heist in British history.

Prior to this heist the same gang stole the Comtesse de Vendome gold and diamond necklace from a jewelry store in Tokyo. The value of this piece encrusted with 116 diamonds was valued between $24 and $31 million.

The ‘Pink Panthers’ gang, masterminds from the former Yugoslavia, were also implicated in

a heist in France. On 4 December 2008 three well-dressed women walked into the Harry Winston store in Paris. They were actually disguised men who pulled out handguns, attacked the store’s staff and stole $108 million stock in jewels and watches. It is thought to have been an inside job as the robbers called the staff by their first names.

A similar robbery happened in Cannes on 11 August 1994 when masked men burst into the store which was situated in the Carlton Hotel. These men carried machine guns which they fired – later the cartridges were found to be blanks. To date, the total haul, valued at $60 million, has not been found, nor have the thieves!

The list of diamond heists is extensive, with robberies having been committed in various places all over the world. Perhaps one of the most brazen thefts took place in Belgium in March 2007 when a frequent customer at the ABN Amro bank in Antwerp, Carlos Flomenbaum, gained the trust of the staff by posing as a diamond trader. In this way he acquired a key to the vault, let himself in and walked out the bank with 120 000 carats of diamonds worth $28 million!

Prior to this heist the same gang stole the Comtesse de Vendome gold and diamond necklace from a jewelry store in Tokyo. The value of this piece encrusted with 116 diamonds was valued between $24 and $31 million.

The ‘Pink Panthers’ gang, masterminds from the former Yugoslavia, were also implicated in

a heist in France. On 4 December 2008 three well-dressed women walked into the Harry Winston store in Paris. They were actually disguised men who pulled out handguns, attacked the store’s staff and stole $108 million stock in jewels and watches. It is thought to have been an inside job as the robbers called the staff by their first names.

A similar robbery happened in Cannes on 11 August 1994 when masked men burst into the store which was situated in the Carlton Hotel. These men carried machine guns which they fired – later the cartridges were found to be blanks. To date, the total haul, valued at $60 million, has not been found, nor have the thieves!

The list of diamond heists is extensive, with robberies having been committed in various places all over the world. Perhaps one of the most brazen thefts took place in Belgium in March 2007 when a frequent customer at the ABN Amro bank in Antwerp, Carlos Flomenbaum, gained the trust of the staff by posing as a diamond trader. In this way he acquired a key to the vault, let himself in and walked out the bank with 120 000 carats of diamonds worth $28 million!

 

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