On February 15, 2003, the biggest diamond heist in history took place in the diamond cutting capital of the world – Antwerp. 123 out of 160 safe boxes were empties out in a quiet, violence-free robbery. The thieves somehow managed to walk in to one of the most protected safes in the world, and walk back out again with their precious loot, without being seen by anyone.
It sounds like a movie script, but it’s a true story. Although the robbery took place on Sunday night, only on Monday morning did anyone notice the safe had been broken into. The heavy metal doors of the safe were open and papers and some gems were scattered all over the floor.
An industry source told the Guardian the “There were no signs of forced entry.
"There are cameras, sophisticated alarms, 24-hour security guards on every main entrance and every exit, and even cameras in the vault - so how these people got in undetected is a mystery.
"They must have had the necessary security passes and known exactly where the cameras were. Everyone suspects it was an inside job", he said.
The precise value of the stolen gems is unclear, due to the murky nature of the diamond dealing industry. Some $25 million legitimate claims were brought at the time of the heist, and the police calculated that another $75 million in unclaimed goods was stolen. Together, the total estimated value of the robbery comes to a whopping $100 million.
On Monday, February 17, Mr. August Van Camp made yet another call to his local police station to complain about garbage that has again been thrown on his piece of land – a small forest alongside the E19 motorway on Belgium. Mr. Van Camp requested, as he did every time he called to complain about garbage on his land, someone should come by and investigate, and described the contents of the garbage found. When the policeman heard it contained envelopes printed with the words Diamond Center, Antwerp he reacted immediately. Within hours, six policemen swarmed the small strip of forest and found incriminating evidence, including a receipt in the name of Leonardo Notarbartolo – a small diamond dealer who had an office in the Antwerp diamond Center, and actually an experienced thief.
Four men, out of what is believed to have been a five-man operation, were caught. Leonardo Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years in prison and accused of being the brains behind the robbery. The other three served a five year sentence each. They were identified by DNA samples – Notarbartolo, who was the first to be caught, refused to cooperate with the police and never disclosed any of his accomplice’s names. Most of the loot was never found.