Belgium diamond heist: 31 detained in 3 countries


A welcome sign at Brussels international airport in Zaventem where armed robbers made off with $50 million worth of diamonds in a massive heist. Belgian, French and Swiss police have recovered part of a spectacular $50-million diamond heist in gems and cash and made multiple arrests in a vast cross-border operation, Belgian officials said on May 08, 2013.


Bruno Fahy

BRUSSELS — Authorities in Switzerland, Belgium and France have arrested 31 people in connection with a diamond heist at Brussels Airport.

Some of the $50 million-worth of diamonds and large sums of money were recovered following the arrests said Belgian prosecutors. 

Police spokesman Jean-Marc Meilleur told Belgian media the raids also led to the seizure of large sums of cash and luxury vehicles.

One of the suspects was arrested in France, six in Switzerland the the remaining 24 in Belgium. 

Meilleur said the suspect held in France took part in the Brussels airport heist. 

The role of the other suspects remains unclear. At least 10 of those arrested in Belgium have criminal records, including armed robbery, Meilleur said.

"They are all part of the Brussels underworld," he said. 

Belgian prosecutors also described the thieves as "professionals."

The thieves cut through an airport fence and approached a Helvetic Airways flight carrying the rough diamonds heading from Antwerp to Zurich.

Armed and dressed as police, the robbers took 120 packages from the cargo hold and fled through the hole in the fence.

The whole operation took five minutes.

The news of the arrests will come as a relief for Belgian authorities who had come into criticism for the lax security at the airport, which enabled the gang to carry out the heist.

The raid raised serious questions about security at what is a major transit point for gems passing through the world's leading diamond trading center in the nearby city of Antwerp. 

Lawmakers are demanding tigether security at Brussels airport, which has been the target of at least five high-profile attempted robberies for cash or gems over the last 15 years.