31 Arrests Made in $50 Million Brussels Diamond Heist

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 8 2013 11:05 AM

Police Arrest 31 for Spectacular Heist That Stole $50 Million in Diamonds From an Airport Tarmac

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A welcome sign at Brussels international airport where armed robbers made off with $50 million worth of diamonds

Photo by Bruno Fahy/AFP/Getty Images

A diamond theft in Brussels with all the daring of a heist film has led to an impressive number of arrests: More than 30 suspects in three countries were taken into custody over the past two days for a February stunt that lifted $50 million worth of diamonds from an airport tarmac. Some of the diamonds were recovered as well.

Here's how the AFP sums up the scope of the operation behind the heist, which led to a continent-wide manhunt that resulted in at least 31 arrests:

The Belgian prosecutor's office Wednesday said a suspected member of the eight-man gang that staged the brazen robbery three months ago had been picked up in France on Tuesday, as Swiss police made eight arrests and seized some of the missing diamonds. "The probe led to a big police operation yesterday," spokesman Jean-Marc Meilleur told a news conference. In early morning raids mainly in the Brussels area involving some 200 officers on Wednesday, police made 24 arrests and "recovered big amounts of cash" and luxury cars, Meilleur added.
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The Guardian notes that the Brussels arrests apparently involved some known members of the city's "criminal underworld." And according to the AFP, two of the arrests in Switzerland involved a businessman and a Geneva-based lawyer. That mix of backgrounds shouldn't be too surprising given that investigators have long suspected the eight robbers relied on "insider" knowledge to carry out the spectacularly efficient heist.

In case you've forgotten the details, The Slatest wrote about the heist at the time of the crime. The diamonds, mostly uncut and therefore harder to trace, were taken from the tarmac of Belgium's main airport in a brazen armed robbery involving eight men dressed as policemen. They entered and exited through a small gap in the security perimeter, no one was injured, and the whole thing took about five minutes. All police found (at first) following the robbery was a burnt-out vehicle used by the robbers. Before the heist, the diamonds were shipped from Antwerp, where 80 percent of all rough and half of all cut diamonds are traded. 

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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