In a heist right out of movies such as The Italian Job, eight masked gunman drove on to the tarmac at Brussels' international airport Monday night, sped to a plane being loaded with diamonds and made off with about $50 million worth of the precious stones, authorities say.
It was all over in just a few minutes.
"What we are talking about is obviously a gigantic sum," says Caroline De Wolf of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. She says the diamonds were "rough stones" being transported from Antwerp to Zurich.
"The raid at Brussels airport happened just before 8 p.m. ... The heavily armed men drove through the airport security fence in two vehicles, a Mercedes van and a car, and made straight for a Brink's delivery van. The staff were loading safes full of diamonds on to a ... plane bound for Zurich. The gunmen quickly filled their vehicles with the boxes and fled through the same broken security barrier. No shots were fired. A burned-out van was later found nearby. The raid lasted just three minutes."
Now, what will the thieves do with their loot? If the past is any guide, they won't get anywhere near $50 million — provided they aren't caught. They may already have made arrangements with some less-than-scrupulous dealers who will try to unload the diamonds at a deep discount.
In November 2011, the New York Post profiled FBI Special Agent Dan McCaffrey, the bureau's "expert on gems and the crooks who steal them." The Post wrote that:
"When $14 million in loose diamonds vanished in Belgium, McCaffrey became part of the pack of investigators chasing the thieves around the world.
"McCaffrey soon zeroed-in on a diamond dealer who had set up shop on W. 47th Street, in the Diamond District, and who was selling stones at 30% of market value.
"He discovered that the Manhattan jeweler had been hired to unload the hot rocks by the son of the Belgian who reported the theft. McCaffrey locked up the son and his fence, recovered the diamonds — and personally flew them back to Belgium and the rightful owner."
Update at 2:40 p.m. ET. Wired's "Untold Story Of The World's Biggest Diamond Heist."
Today's news makes Wired's account of a 2003 heist in Antwerp even more interesting reading. Then, the alleged crime was the theft of "at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils" from a vault below the Antwerp Diamond Center. We say "alleged" because if one thief's account is to be believed, the mastermind was a diamond dealer who made sure that his and other dealers' gems weren't actually there to be stolen — but could be reported as missing to then collect insurance benefits. The value of the stones that were stolen may have been far less.
The message from that story: there was lots of inside help.