Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sensational Heists

The Antwerp Diamond Center Heist

Antwerp Diamon Center
Antwerp Diamon Center

On February 16, 2003, highly skilled thieves broke into Belgians renowned Antwerp Diamond Center and pulled off one of the countrys biggest heists. They plundered 123 of 160 vaults before making off with more than $100 million in gems, as well as documents stating the valuables authenticity. Amazingly, the robbery wasnt noticed until the following day.

Investigators who converged on the scene following the discovery of the break-in immediately realized that there was no sign of forced entry. When they entered the vaults, they found the floor littered with safety boxes, gold, money, securities, cut and rough diamonds, jewels and other items, BBC News reported. Most of the items that were easily traceable were left behind.

Antwerp Vault Ransacked
Antwerp Vault Ransacked

Judging by the crime scenes appearance, investigators deduced that the robbery was an inside job. The thieves were apparently familiar with the high-tech security system and the 24-hour guard movements around the vaults because they were able to bypass it with ease. It was also believed that the robbers might have had passes or keys to gain entry to the building because they didnt have to cut through windows or use explosives to get in. Moreover, the robbers must have known enough about gems to also steal their records of authenticity, which would make resale easier.

Following their hunch, investigators interviewed the diamond centers staff, as well as the safes owners. The interviews provided little information concerning the identity of the criminals, forcing investigators to search elsewhere for clues. They didnt have to look far.

Antwerp, Belgium
Antwerp, Belgium

Less than two weeks after the break-in, the police found an unusual piece of evidence that they believed was linked to the crime. The BBC reported that they found several discarded bags in a ditch beside the main road out of Antwerp, which contained a partially eaten sandwich, security camera tapes and safe documents. An examination of the tapes and documents revealed that they came from the heist. 

Perhaps the most surprising piece of evidence was derived from the half-eaten sandwich, from which police abstracted DNA. The investigation led the police to Leonardo Notarbartolo, 51, a diamond merchant who rented office space in the Antwerp Diamond Centre and had been to the vaults on several occasions, the BBC reported. Although he was not directly involved in the robbery, he was believed to be a part of the gang of robbers.

Leonardo Notarbartolo
Leonardo Notarbartolo

Notarbartolo and his Dutch wife, Adriana Crudo, 48, who was also a suspected accomplice, were arrested for theft and other charges including using false documents and keys and being members of a criminal gang. Raf Casert reported in an Associated Press article that in March 2003, both Notarbartolo and Crudo appeared before a court magistrate and flatly denied any connection to the robbery. They were not the only ones to be implicated.

Several other men of Italian nationality, , including Ferdinando Finotto, Elio DOnorio, Pietro Tavano and Antonio Falleti, were also believed to be a part of the heist. Based on evidence and witness testimony, investigators were able to piece together how the gang was able to get into the vaults undetected. The BBC said that the gang had learned to circumvent the alarm system and had copied master keys after renting an office in the Diamond Centre in the name of a phantom company and during the theft, they taped over security cameras and may have put old videotapes in the surveillance system. Erik Sack, Antwerps judicial director, was quoted in the article saying that the robbery was a piece of genius in its simplicity. 

Police Photo of Copied Keys
Police Photo of Copied Keys

None of the diamonds have been found; theyve probably have been sold off or hidden. The suspects trial dates have not yet been set, but prosecutors are demanding a 10 year prison sentence and a 10,000 fine for Notarbartolo. They are also demanding that Ferdinando Finotto, Elio DOnorio and Pietro Tavano receive five-year sentences and fines of 5,000 euros each. Prosecutors are less confident with securing lengthy sentences for Falleti and Crudo because of the lack of evidence linking them directly to the crime.

Antrwerps bustling diamond industry, which has always prided itself on security, feared that the robbery would negatively impact business, but the actual repercussions have been minimal. Today, Antwerp still remains one of the leading diamond capitals of the world. Since the robbery, the city has managed to reinforce both the diamond districts security and reputation.

 

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