The Tarmac loves a good tarmac story. This one’s a lulu. Eight heavily armed thieves dressed as cops and driving two vehicles with flashing blue lights drive onto the tarmac at Belgium’s Zaventum airport. They nab $50 million worth of diamonds from the cargo of a passenger-loaded Helvetic Airways flight ready for take off.
It happened Monday and it’s one of the biggest jewelry heists in history according to the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC). But authorities are as concerned about the breach in tarmac security as they are about the diamonds.
News reports suggest the thieves cut a hole through a perimeter fence get their vehicles on the tarmac and then gain access to the aircraft. Apparently the pilot, co-pilot and guards from a Brink’s armored car that transported the gems to the airport were held at gunpoint. No shots were fired and no one was injured during the five-minute robbery. Most reports say the passengers on board the aircraft had no idea what was going on.
The knowledge of the jewels’ whereabouts was the real cunning of the heisters. You’ve got to admit they had dash.
Helvetic Airways, an independent Swiss airlines, say cargo security is the domain of the airport and the security company handling the transport of the diamonds to the aircraft. Police later found one burned out vehicle used by the thieves.
Diamond trading is big business in Antwerp. Last year, the total value of the trade figured to be $51.9 billion, representing 80 percent of the world’s rough diamond trade (assembly required) and 50 percent of the trade in polished gems (the floor models).
On Monday, the thieves got away with both rough and polished stones in 120 packages. There were more diamonds in the cargo that they didn’t get.
One of the most successful jewel heists of all time was the AWDC robbery in 2003, when thieves rented an office in the Diamond Center and made copies of master keys of the security system and vaults. They got away with more than $100 million in jewels. None have been accounted for. That’s a lot of castle-like rings on plumb fingers somewhere in the world.
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