Diamond Thieves Make Off With $50-Million Haul

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 19 2013 12:31 PM

Robbers, Dressed as Police, Stole $50 Million in Diamonds From a Plane in Brussels Last Night

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Antwerp accounts for about 80 percent of rough diamond trade and 50 percent of polished diamond trade

Photo by Julien Warnand/AFP/Getty Images

There's a reason so many heist films center around stealing diamonds: the phrase "diamond heist" all but screams spectacular criminal cleverness. And it seems the latest theft, off of the tarmac at an airport in Brussels, is no exception. 

A group of about eight men apparently managed to steal part of a shipment of diamonds from a passenger plane just about to take off for Zurich, Switzerland last night. Their haul was worth about $50 million, and all police have found so far is a burnt-out vehicle used in the heist, according to the AFP. The diamonds were a mix of rough and cut, and the whole thing took just about five minutes.

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The robbers, heavily armed and disguised as police, opened a gap in the security cordon without raising suspicion. Then things get a little less Wizard of OZ at the Witch's castle, as the AFP explains:

They forced their way through security barriers and sped towards a Swiss passenger aircraft about to take off, forcing open the cargo hold to reach gems ... that had already been loaded...The pilot, co-pilot and staff from a Brink's armoured car that transported the gems were held up but "no shots were fired and no-one was injured," [Brussels prosecutors' spokeswoman Anja] Bijnens said of a robbery that was over "within minutes." She said the thieves made off at high speed through the same gap in the security cordon they had opened in front of unsuspecting ground staff and travellers, adding that the passengers on board the plane "saw nothing."

Prosecutors aren't saying to whom the diamonds, previously shipped from Antwerp to the airport by ground transportation, belonged. The Diamond trade in Antwerp accounts for about 80 percent of rough diamond trade and 50 percent of polished diamond trade, according to the New York Times. Antwerp World Diamond Centre spokesperson Caroline De Wolf told the Times that this was one of the biggest heists of Antwerp diamonds in memory, adding: "The fact that this happened is a big problem for us. We have our No. 1 position to defend. Security is obviously very important...We are shocked by the fact this could ever happen. We are all wondering: how is this possible?"

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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