German police arrest three over 1bn euro diamond heist

Swoop on 1bn euro diamond heist gang: German police arrest three over theft of 16th-century diamond-encrusted sword an jewellery from Dresden museum

  • Three have been arrested over the Dresden Green Vault Museum jewel heist
  • Thieves stole jewellery sets commissioned by the 18th-century ruler of Saxony
  • They include 49-carat diamond worth £9 million and diamond-encrusted sword 

Three people have been arrested over a €1billion (£898,000) diamond heist in Germany, which included the theft of a 16th-century diamond-encrusted sword.

Police raided apartments across Berlin early this morning and detained three people suspected of involvement in a jewel heist Dresden’s Green Vault Museum.

Thieves forced their way into the museum in November last year and got away with at least three sets of early 18th century jewellery, including diamonds and rubies.

Police searched 18 apartments, garages and vehicles for the jewellery and other evidence including digital data, clothes and tools, mostly in the city’s southern district of Neukoelln.

Three people were arrested in Berlin, Germany, this morning over a €1billion (£898,000) diamond heist Dresden’s Green Vault Museum in November last year, which included a a 16th-century diamond-encrusted sword (left) and the Dresden White diamond (right)

Thieves forced their way into the museum in November last year and got away with at least three sets of early 18th century jewellery

Three German people were arrested on suspicion of theft and arson at an apartment building in Kreuzberg, Berlin, this morning

A total of 1,638 officers took part in the operation that could cause serious traffic disruptions through the day, it added.

Three German people were arrested on suspicion of theft and arson, and will appear before a investigating judge later in the morning, the police said. 

The force said the arrests took place in different parts of the country, without going into detail.

Security camera footage showed two men breaking into the museum through a grilled window in the early hours of November 25. 

A cabinet of 18th-century jewellery which was smashed open and looted by burglars at a German museum today, causing an ‘immeasurable’ loss

Heavily-armed police stand outside an apartment building in Kreuzberg district today during raids in which police arrested three suspects in connection with last year’s spectacular robbery in the Gruenes Gewoelbe museum in Dresden

Police forensic officers work at the scene during raids in Berlin after thieves grabbed priceless jewels from the historic Green Vault museum

Police searched 18 apartments, garages and vehicles for the jewellery and other evidence

Officers were on the scene five minutes after the alarm sounded, but the thieves escaped.

The stolen jewels were worth up to €1billion (£898,000), Bild newspaper reported at the time.

They included a sword whose hilt is encrusted with nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, and a shoulder piece which contains the famous 49-carat Dresden White diamond.

The Dresden White is one of the most precious jewels in the collection of former Saxon ruler August the Strong.

The jewels were stolen after thieves set fire to a junction box, cutting power to the museum’s alarms, then managed to get through a small gap in a grille of a window on the ground floor

Tobias Kormind, managing director of the diamond retailer 77Diamonds, said that it could be worth up to $12 million (£10million), adding that thieves would have ‘hit the jackpot’ if they did take it.

‘None of the diamonds would have been in themselves extra special except for the one large Dresden White,’ he said.

Eleven pieces were removed completely, while individual parts of a further three items were also missing. 

Police say they were alerted to the break-in at 4.59am on November 25 and suspect that the thieves were behind an electrical fire which broke out nearby.   

German Chancellor Angela Merkel standing next to museum director Dirk Syndram during her visit to the Gruenes Gewoelbe (or Green Vault) at the Royal Palace in the eastern German city of Dresden in 2006

Shutting off the electricity may have helped the burglars to disable the museum’s alarm systems and also left the area in darkness. It is unclear whether the alarms had a backup power supply. 

In addition, a burned-out vehicle was discovered nearby and detectives are now trying to track down the owner to establish whether the fire was related to the theft. 

Reports in Germany say the thieves were ‘noticeably small’ and able to fit through a tiny space in a window.

The collection was brought together in the 18th century by Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland, who commissioned ever more brilliant jewellery as part of his rivalry with France’s King Louis XIV.

A map showing where the break-in took place this morning and the bridge where the thieves are believed to have cut off a power supply to help them gain entry 

Augustus, who was elector of Saxony from 1694 to 1733 and also king of Poland for much of that time, established Dresden as a cultural centre and founded the museum.

The material worth of the jewellery was less important than the fact that the jewels had come as a set, museum director Marion Ackermann said last year.

Asked about the suggested value of a billion euros, she said the value of the items stolen could not be quantified. 

‘We’re dealing with priceless artistic and cultural treasures,’ she told reporters in Dresden this afternoon. ‘We cannot give a value because it is impossible to sell. 

An ‘epaulette’ of the diamond rose set (left) and a jewel of the Polish White Eagle Order (right) that were stolen from the Green Vault

A hat clasp of the diamond rose set (left) and a Breast Star of the Polish White Eagle Order (right) that were stolen from the Green Vault early Monday morning

Dirk Syndram, another director at the museum, said the sets amounted to ‘a kind of world heritage’, totalling about 100 jewellery items. 

He explained that the stolen sets were part of a ten-set collection which includes not only diamonds, but also sapphires, rubies and emeralds. 

One of the museum’s best known treasures the 41-carat Dresden Green Diamond was away on loan at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time of the break-in.

The treasures of the Green Vault survived Allied bombing raids in World War Two, only to be carted off as war booty by the Soviet Union. 

They were returned to Dresden, the historic capital of the state of Saxony, in 1958. 

What are the world’s biggest heists? 

Up to one billion euros’ (£850million or $1.1billion) worth of treasures may have been stolen in today’s break-in which would make it the largest heist ever. 

It would surpass a series of other famous thefts, including:  

Theft of the Mona Lisa, Paris- $700million at today’s prices 

Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911. 

The thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, eventually took it to Italy, where it was recovered and returned in 1914.

When it was assessed for insurance in the 1960s, the Mona Lisa was valued at $100million – meaning it would be worth around $700million today. 

Gardner Museum, Boston – $500million 

In March 1990, two thieves stole 13 artworks worth $500million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. 

The pair disguised themselves as Boston police officers and left with works of art by Rembrandt and Manet among others. 

The crime remains unsolved and last year the museum renewed an offer of $10million to help find the artworks. 

Hatton Garden, London – estimates up to £200million

A gang of ageing criminals ransacked 73 deposit boxes at the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit building in London’s jewellery district in 2015. 

Disguised as workmen, they abseiled down a lift shaft over the Easter weekend and used a diamond-tipped drill to cut through the vault wall. 

The thieves stole gold, silver, diamonds and jewellery and some estimates at the time put the value at up to £200million.  

Nazi theft of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – $135million 

A painting of his wife by Jewish artist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was stolen by the Nazis in 1941. 

It remained in Austria until 2006 when it was returned to the Bloch-Bauer family and sold for what was then a record $135million.  

The Scream, Oslo – $120million

Edvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream was stolen by armed robbers in broad daylight in 2004. 

It was recovered by police two years later and one of the thieves died while still at large. 

In 2012, another version of the painting was sold in the US for $120million. 

Diamond heist, Antwerp – $100million

In 2003, thieves cleared vaults at the Antwerp Diamond Centre during a weekend, with diamonds, gold and jewellery worth over $100million taken. 

The thieves got past infrared heat detectors and a lock with millions of possible combinations. 

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