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The Global World Of Mega Heists

Fifty million dollars in diamonds stolen from a Brussels airport. We’ll look inside the global world of mega heists.

Diamond crystals (Kim-bodia/Flickr)

Diamond crystals (Kim-bodia/Flickr)

The big diamond heist last week in Brussels was brazenly bold, heavily armed and lightning fast.  Thieves dressed like police tore straight through an airport perimeter fence, blue lights flashing, at exactly the moment that a trove of diamonds was being loaded for a flight to Switzerland.

There was the plane, the diamonds, a Brinks delivery vehicle, and a lot of machine guns.  In five minutes it was done and they were gone – with diamonds valued in press reports at between $50 million and half a billion dollars.  How does that happen?

This hour, On Point:  the world of the heist.

-Tom Ashbrook


Scott Andrew Selby, Author of “Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History”.

Brian Koppelman, Screenwriter for Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), Rounders (1998), and others.

From Tom’s Reading List

CNN “Over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2003, a group of Italian thieves broke into a massive vault in the heart of Antwerp, Belgium’s diamond district and got away with an estimated $500 million worth of precious stones and diamonds. While the rest of the city was busy celebrating romance and love, these tenacious men peeled open safe deposit box after safe deposit box, leaving excess treasure on the ground like it was garbage.”

New York Times “They arrived at Brussels Airport armed with automatic weapons and dressed in police uniforms aboard two vehicles equipped with blue police lights. But their most important weapon was information: the eight hooded gangsters who on Monday evening seized diamonds worth tens of millions of dollars from a passenger plane preparing to depart for Switzerland knew exactly when to strike — just 18 minutes before takeoff.

Forcing their way through the airport’s perimeter fence, the thieves raced, police lights flashing, to Flight LX789, which had just been loaded with diamonds from a Brink’s armored van from Antwerp, Belgium, and was getting ready for an 8:05 p.m. departure for Zurich.”

Guardian “A decade ago the port city of Antwerp, the world capital of diamond-cutting, was the scene of what was probably one of the biggest diamond heists in history, when robbers took precious stones, jewels, gold and securities from the high-security vaults at Antwerp’s Diamond Center, yielding loot that police in 2003 estimated to be worth about $100 million at the time.

Monday’s heist though was a fresh blow to the Antwerp industrial diamond center which prides itself on security and discretion.”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    I think it is interesting that the press reports that 500 million dollars in diamonds were stolen. They failed to mention that the diamond cartels have been stealing from consumers for years. Diamond prices are controlled by monopolistic “forces”. They are not worth the prices people pay for them, they are not rare !
    I know a “person” that dates a woman that owns a few jewelry stores. He bought her a diamond at retail that cost him in the neighborhood of $27,000.00 ( Too rich for my blood ! ) She asked him why he didn’t buy the one she loved ( priced about $250,000.00 ). She told him she could have got it for about $ 35,000.00. You do the moral math .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

    There is a lot more to the Valentine’s heist, that makes much more sense. The inside information was way too abundant for outside Italians.  Leonardo Notarbartolo, the diamond thief, was actually contracted by an insider Jewish diamond dealer, who recreated the entire setting in a warehouse to practice for the heist. The Italians were set up.  When they broke the safe and later opened the satchels, they found most were empty.  Regardless they ended up with 20 to 30 million in various diamonds and US, EURO and Israeli currency. What actually happened was that a group of diamond dealers stole their own diamonds, worth hundreds of millions, then claimed them as stolen by Notarbartolo in the heist to collect the insurance. AS FOR THE RECENT HEIST.  Most people are aware that airport security is controlled by Israeli companies. And the military precision, and audacity of this recent heist would take the expertise of a brazen organization such as the mossad. As for the diamonds, of this recent heist as well as the one in 2003, and you can include tens of billions of unaccounted Bernie Madoff money,  I would be looking for them in Israel and NOT ITALY. 

  • JGC

    These guys were pikers: there is no heist bigger than what greater Wall Street did to the world economy in 2007/2008. Dream large, my friends…

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    50 million is a pittance. Our financial engineers on Wall Street make these guys look amateurs by steeling billions and making their crimes look legal.

  • AC

    thanks for giving terrorists a new idea diamond thieves….:(

    • TyroneJ

      The Taliban is financed mainly through the opium trade, with kidnapping and ransom as a secondary revenue generator. Why would you ever assume that terrorists are not as smart as you, and hence would not think of ways to make money on their own, and would only think of theft by listening to the radio?

      • AC

        i meant how to get through airport security. sorry, i forget how important context can be when writing.
        but you raise an interesting question…certainly i think their manipulative handlers are probably very clever – but the religous fanatic types i don’t. & i’m not just talking about ‘taliban’ types of terrorist. there are lots of diff kinds. & thye’re usually religious. hmmmmm……

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    If this never happened in real life, the endless number of complicated heist movies would look pretty stupid.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Were the stones insured?

    “A mole”. lol

    Nothing better than getting paid two ways.

  • http://twitter.com/en_b ian berry

    There are thousands of out of work people who are EXTREMELY skilled at assault coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. These guys have a true expertise at this sort of thing! Regular police and security dont stand a chance.
    You can expect to see a whole lot more of these sorts of heists well into the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

    Is anyone else having trouble getting themselves to stop thinking about the diamond heist movie, “Snatch” while they listen to this?  I can’t stop thinking about Cousin Avi, Boris the Blade and Bullet-tooth Tony :)

    • sickofthechit

      My girlfriend and I had had an argument while in Ireland when Snatch came out.  I was out walking around giving her some “space” and I happened upon Snatch playing in a 100 seat theater in the small town we were staying in.  That remains my favorite movie experience of all time.  It gave me a whole new attitude that night, and forever made me a fan of Brad Pitts. charles a. bowsher

      • DrewInGeorgia

        Check out Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Rock N Rolla if you haven’t seen them. If you liked Snatch you’ll love them.

      • DrewInGeorgia

        Check out Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Rock N Rolla if you haven’t already seen them. If you liked Snatch you’ll love both films. And don’t miss Revolver, it’s definitely one of my all-time favorites. Guy Ritchie is a Genius.

  • jefe68

    The show is not about the banksters? Well if you ask me they made off with more than these jewel thieves have.

  • JGC

    Just like the infamous Maple Syrup Heist from the Canadian maple syrup strategic reserve, it was an inside job!

  • Terrence_P

    So let’s see…

    A group of former soldiers who worked hard and were paid little
    stole a bunch of pointless shiny rocks that appeal to people with lots of money
    and little sense. The soldiers took nothing from nobody, and may make some
    money from it. Where’s the crime? Who’s the criminal? 

  • Terrence_P

    So let’s see…

    A group of former soldiers who worked hard and were paid
    little stole a bunch of pointless shiny rocks that appeal to people with lots
    of money and little sense. The soldiers took nothing from nobody, and may make
    some money from it. Where’s the crime? Who’s the criminal? 

  • JGC

    This is a great show. I am so distracted thinking about whodunnit/howdunnit, I haven’t even thought about the sequester for the past 27 minutes…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jjchaconas John Chaconas

    I really believe this was an operation by trained terreroists.  Let’s see what could $50 million buy>  Some depleted uranium?

  • MarkVII88

    I absolutely agree with your guest that Mamet’s 2001 film HEIST is one of, if not the best heist film ever made.  Unlike the “Ocean’s” movies, it’s not one long rube-goldberg sequence of events, it was really smart and engaging.  And while it had it’s share of shooting, the heist itself wasn’t overly violent, and not everyone ultimately ended-up unscathed.  The cast was stellar too…Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, and Danny DeVito to name a few!  Awesome.

    • twenty_niner

      Great movie. I also like Micheal Mann’s “Thief” from the early 80s, which had a lot of technical details and that wicked magnesium lance.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5UQ5B7LIGFBAN4TO2ZH36AFX24 Mark

    What ever happened to working for a living? There is too much glorifying of the Thief in society. It Obviously would not be OK to steal from a school, or the Elderly. What makes it OK to steel from one person but not another? Too many people Rationalize the Act and call it good depending on the circumstances, when the act itself is immoral and breaks down society.

  • shirlz1

    I doubt the people to whom the diamonds belonged were angels… professional, quick, no shots fired, nobody harmed… FAIR PLAY! :D

  • TomK_in_Boston

    Mitt Romney paid less than 13% income tax on a huge income that resulted from nothing but financial manipulation. He has a $100 million IRA because he contributed assets valued at nothing that magically grew to astounding levels. All the other financial con operators do the same thing. How do you like that mega heist?

  • 2Gary2

    I am poor and regularly skip a meal from time to time.  I can only dream of having enough and yet you waste time on some diamonds getting stole?

    • JGC

      From “Movies Unlimited”: 

      ‘During the Great Depression people went to the movies to escape.  The portrayal of class in screwball comedies, often with a rich versus poor theme and usually with the rich receiving  their comeuppance, had a particular appeal to audiences that went to the movies to laugh and to feel better about their own economic circumstances.’

      Now, substitute the word ‘radio’ instead of the word ‘movies’, imagine Tom Ashbrook sitting at the mic wearing a platinum wig and a bias-cut satin dinner gown, and you will soon forget all your troubles and get happy. I am still waiting for the rich Wall Street Banker to get his comeuppance, though…

      • 2Gary2

        Thanks–Thinking about Tom wearing a wig does not fill my stomach nor those of my kids…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

    Is Scott Selby that naive, when he responds to the insurance set-up
    question, that it is unlikely that the owners of the diamond would know
    about airport security ? 

    The author Selby is playing dumb, when he refuses to believe that
    insiders in Israeli security firms that guard the airport would not
    collude with Israeli diamond dealers. 

    People still refuse to see the 800 gorilla in the room.

  • twenty_niner

    The biggest problem with this type of heist seems to be fencing the loot. You would need some pretty solid connections to unload the diamonds, get paid, and sever all ties.

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