Who Stole These $50 Million Diamonds?

It had all the elements of a classic heist film A brazen stick-up at an international airport, a Europe wide police investigation and $50 million worth of diamonds at stake

Within three months, thirty-one people were arrested in connection with the robbery, including an internationally notorious gangster However, in February 2018, eighteen of the people put on trial were acquitted The masterminds behind one of the most daring jewel thefts in history are still on the loose But who would have the nerve to steal $50 million worth of gems? Antwerp, in present day Belgium, has been considered the capital of the international diamond trade since the 15th century The diamond district of the city, the Diamantkwartier, processes approximately 84% of the world’s diamonds

With an annual turnover of $54 billion, it’s unsurprising that the city developed a sophisticated security infrastructure to protect its assets Yet there were gaps in this security, , however small, that could be exploited by those in the know The 18th February, 2013 7:47pm Two vehicles drive through a hole cut into the perimeter fence around Brussels Airport and wait for their target

The eight occupants are masked, dressed in police uniforms and carrying “Kalashnikov style assault weapons” Within two minutes, they reach a Helvetic Airways flight destined for Zurich, Switzerland There are thirty-eight people on board More importantly, so too are uncut diamonds worth $50 million, awaiting delivery to the jewelers of Surat in India There are fifteen minutes between the loading of the precious stones and take-off, when there is no security whatsoever

It is during this small window that the thieves arrive at the plane, and calmly ask the pilot and crew waiting outside to remain still When the last of the diamonds are unloaded, the robbers board their vehicles and exit the way they came The entire heist lasts less than eleven minutes without a single shot fired The first the passengers know of the robbery is when they’re informed their flight is cancelled Within hours of the robbery Belgian police began investigating known criminals within Europe and North Africa

Near the top of their list was Marc Bertoldi: A restaurateur with links to Swiss, French and Moroccan organised crime, and a prior conviction for trafficking stolen cars Belgian authorities wiretapped Bertoldi, and discovered that he had warned a friend he would be unreachable on the day of the heist On the day itself, GPS tracking placed Bertoldi’s car near the scene of the crime Two days after the heist, Bertoldi seemed to be bragging about his involvement, advising a friend to “watch television” Around the same time, Belgian authorities discovered Bertoldi had contacted a Swiss property investor named Pascal Pont

Pont had previously loaned Bertoldi $50,000 to start a nightclub that never materialised According to Pont’s lawyer Shahram Dini, Bertoldi attempted to repay Pont with two small diamonds When Pont attempted to sell the diamonds, Bertoldi arrived on his doorstep with a large sack filled with uncut stones Pont accepted the stones and stored them on his property In Shahram Dini’s words, Pont was “naive”

“It was a favour for someone who charmed and also scared him… [Pont] knew they were diamonds He realised he had a problem” Selling illicit diamonds is extremely difficult for novices, but easier for organised criminals All diamonds are documented and certified by the Kimberley Process, which is designed to prevent conflict diamonds from entering circulation

But once cut and polished, diamonds are effectively untraceable 90% of the world’s diamonds are processed in Surat So, in order to sell a large quantity of stolen, uncut diamonds, a criminal simply has to forge or steal a Kimberley certificate and pass it to the diamond trade in Surat Journalist Jason Miklian says 25% of the fifty billion dollar diamond industry that passes through Surat is laundered this way When French police arrested Bertoldi on 7th May 2013, he was carrying $68,000 in Euros and driving a Porsche lent to him by Pascal Pont

When Swiss police finally arrested Pont, they discovered a safe containing $65 million in diamonds In the three months following the heist, 31 people were arrested across Europe A year later a further four people were arrested in Casablanca… Where Marc Bertoldi lives and works One of the final four was implicated in another diamond theft in Amsterdam in 2011

Despite this, in February 2018 Marc Bertoldi, Pascal Pont, and sixteen other defendants all walked free A defence lawyer for one of the accused, Nathalie Gallant, stated that “[Belgian authorities had] focused on some famous names” Gallant added that the investigators had “worked with blinkers and [focused] on specific people rather than investigate other leads” The tribunal in Brussels determined that the evidence was too weak to prosecute This means that, at least as far as the authorities are concerned, the true thieves and the majority of the loot remain at large

According to Doron Levy, an expert on airport security for risk management firm Ofek, the heist had all the hallmarks of an inside job The theft was “incredibly audacious and well organised”, beyond the abilities of mere amateurs Witnesses observed how the robbers knew exactly when to strike, where to enter the airport to get past security, and how to open the hold of the aircraft This implies that either the criminals did their homework, or had someone on the inside The Dutch press noted the incident bore striking similarities to a previous diamond heist

In 2005, a gang of seven criminals dressed as security guards entered Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and seized $80 million worth of diamonds As with Brussels, the thieves targeted a narrow window of opportunity, knew the workings of the airport and harmed no one Importantly, this gang was only eventually arrested in 2017, meaning that they could have also committed the Brussels heist in 2013 Belgium and The Netherlands share a border, with Amsterdam only 203 km away from Brussels However, according to Edahn Golan, an expert on the economics of the diamond industry, the crew who hit Brussels knew how to conduct a heist, but hadn’t thought about their haul

Golan says, “Everyone thought they were tipped off from the inside in the airport because of the incredible timing But if they knew what they were doing, they should have waited for a trade show” This is because during a trade fair, upwards of sixty five diamond houses from around the world bring a sample of their wares to the country, with many passing through Brussels airport This would increase the diamond haul by a significant amount This goes against the image of experienced and professional diamond thieves who knew what they were doing

Instead, it suggests a relatively opportunistic criminal grabbing a large quantity of uncut diamonds, with no idea how to sell them Much like Marc Bertoldi If Bertoldi is indeed the mastermind behind the Brussels heist, there is a high chance he will get away with it Belgium has a double jeopardy law which prohibits the prosecution of the same person for the same crime with the same evidence on which they have already been acquitted However while that sounds like an ending worthy of Hollywood, not everything has gone Bertoldi’s way

He is currently serving eight years in a French prison for kidnapping his cousin-in-law, in an attempt to extort ransom from a family friend He is unlikely to be released before 2025 Six years after the heist, Belgian prosecutors are still no closer to bringing the perpetrators of the Brussels Job to justice Nor are they any closer to retrieving most of the $50 million of stolen diamonds

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