Diamonds valued at $50 million were stolen in an armed heist at Brussels airport as the diamonds were being loaded onto a plane bound for Switzerland, Bloomberg reported.
“It was about $50 million of rough and polished diamonds,” Caroline De Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. Eight armed and masked men used two black cars in the operation last night, she said.
The vehicles breached the airport perimeter shortly before 8 p.m. local time yesterday and grabbed about 120 packages containing “mainly diamonds,” Ine Van Wymersch, spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office, told a press conference today. No shots were fired and no one was injured, she said.
The gems were in the cargo hold of a Helvetic Air plane operated by Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. that was preparing to depart for Zurich, said Jan Van der Cruysse, a spokesman for the airport. The thieves stopped at the plane for just three minutes and the whole operation took 11 minutes, he said.
“It was very well organized, very swift, efficient and well planned,” Van der Cruysse said in a telephone interview.
Susanne Muehlemann, a spokeswoman for Swiss, a unit of Cologne, Germany-based Deutsche Lufthansa AG, confirmed the theft from a Fokker 100 aircraft it leased from Helvetic.
The robbers flashed guns at the pilots and security workers before taking the packages from the hold, Van Wymersch said.
She didn’t rule out that airport workers were involved, saying “the investigation is running, everything is open.”
A vehicle was later found in the town of Zellik, about 18 kilometers from the airport, that probably was involved in the heist, said Anja Bijnens, another spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.
The AWDC urged “additional security measures” be put in place to safeguard air transport of gems, according to a statement from the Antwerp-based organization.
“We find it hard to understand how a robbery such as yesterday’s heist could take place,” De Wolf, the AWDC spokeswoman, said in the statement. “We do fear the damage for Antwerp, the world’s leading trade center, is significant.”
The Brussels airport is 42 kilometers from Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city and the biggest trading hub for rough diamonds, handling four-fifths of the world’s trade, said the Bloomberg report.