Image:Brussels airport – brusselsairport.be
At the Brussels Court of Appeal, the trial of the diamond transport robbery that took place at Brussels Airport in February 2013 began this week. Four of the 18 original suspects (including some women) in the case are still on trial: Houssein B., Abdellah F., Nordine E.H. and Tarek B.
On Feb. 18, 2013, at least eight armed and masked individuals committed a raid on a plane belonging to Swiss airline ‘Swiss’ that contained 121 packages containing mainly diamonds worth more than 30 million euros. Brink’s was to do the transportation.
The robbers got away. In May 2013, a small part of the loot was recovered in the basement of a Swiss villa. According to sources, the robbers had been expecting cash or gold, but not diamonds.
Eighteen defendants were on trial in the first instance, but the court ruled in May 2018 that the prosecution had not presented sufficient elements and acquitted them. One defendant, Frenchman Marc Bertoldi, was in prison in France at the time for other offenses. He was, however, sentenced to five years in prison.
Contrary to what the prosecution believed, Bertoldi was not involved in carrying out the spectacular robbery, according to the judge. Nor was he the mastermind behind the entire operation. He was, however, convicted as a co-perpetrator because he subsequently sold some of the stolen diamonds. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a €6,000 fine for membership in a criminal organization, co-perpetration and money laundering. “He accepts the verdict,” his lawyer Dimitri de Béco said after the verdict.
According to airline Swiss, the value of the stolen cargo was around $52 million, while Brink’s argued in the first instance that it paid its customers compensation of nearly $30 million for the stolen diamonds. A third civil party claimed it had suffered $18 million in damages.
The prosecutor general appealed the acquittal of the 18 defendants, but halted the prosecution of 14 of them in September because additional investigative acts yielded no new evidence against them.
At the time of the robbery, Belgian reported the following.
According to Jan Van der Cruysse of Brussels Airport, at 7:47 p.m., two vehicles carrying eight heavily armed men made a hole in the airport fence. They drove across the airport grounds to where a passenger plane belonging to Swiss airline Swiss was parked. The Brink’s company had just loaded a load of valuable goods there.
“Under a show of arms, they stole some goods there from the plane’s cargo hold,” Van der Cruysse said. “It only lasted a few minutes, no shots were fired, no one was hurt.”
Then the robbers left the airport via the road by which they had come. According to Van der Cruysse, the whole operation lasted a total of ten minutes.
During the evening, a burned-out van was recovered in Zellik, west of Brussels. The prosecutor’s office is investigating whether this is the robbery vehicle and whether the perpetrators switched to another car.
The stolen diamonds originated in Antwerp. According to the Antwerp diamond industry, the size of the loot would be around $50 million.
Swiss airline Swiss is not commenting for now on the robbery, in which a Swiss aircraft was robbed. “The investigation is ongoing. We are awaiting this,” a spokesman said.
This was not the first time someone has been able to break into Zaventem airport. A few days earlier, a boy of 12 got onto a plane to Spain without a ticket. “Schalkse Ruiters” (a Belgian TV Program) Tom Lenaerts and Bart De Pauw already penetrated the cockpit of a parked plane in the 1990s, as did an African from Guinea.
Things got more serious in late 2005 when a large consignment of diamonds was stolen at FedEx at Brucargo. In April 2001, cash and securities were stolen from a Brink’s Ziegler money transport and six months earlier diamonds were stolen from a Lufthansa plane.
In 1995, securities were stolen from a Swissair aircraft that was ready to take off. Then again in 1982, security guard Francis Zwarts was robbed by men in gendarmerie uniforms. They captured gold and jewelry. Zwarts’ body was never recovered.