Published: 19 Feb 2013 11:37 GMT+01:00 | Print version
Updated: 19 Feb 2013 11:37 GMT+01:00
Heavily armed thieves disguised as police stole diamonds worth over 50 million francs at Brussels airport from a Helvetic Airways plane bound for Zurich, officials said on Tuesday.
The Monday night robbery at Zaventem airport just before 8pm was "one of the biggest" ever, said a spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), the global dealers' syndicate.
A gang of eight hooded thieves drove onto the runway in two black vehicles with blue police-like markings, Brussels prosecutors' spokeswoman Anja Bijnens told a press conference.
They forced their way through security barriers and sped towards the Helvetic Airways passenger aircraft about to take off, forcing open the cargo hold to reach gems — rough and cut — that had already been loaded, she said.
Bijnens said the thieves were wearing police uniforms and carrying machine guns, adding: "They wanted to pass themselves off as cops."
They seized at least 120 packages, which was only part of the shipment, she said.
The pilot, co-pilot and staff from a Brink's armoured car that transported the gems were held up but "no shots were fired and no-one was injured," Bijnens said of a robbery that was over "within minutes."
She said the thieves made off at high speed through the same gap in the security cordon they had opened in front of unsuspecting ground staff and travellers, adding that the passengers on board the plane "saw nothing" and that the aircraft, bound for Zurich, did not leave Brussels.
The Helvetic Airways plane was operated by Swiss International Air Lines.
The Helvetic flight, scheduled to leave Brussels for Zurich at 8.05 pm, was cancelled, Swiss spokesman Mehdi Guenin told ATS, the Swiss news agency.
The airline is conducting an investigation into what happened.
Helvetic, which leases three of its seven planes to Swiss, is owned by Patinex AG, an investment company owned in turn by Swiss financier Martin Ebner and his wife.
Meanwhile, Belgian police said they found one of the getaway cars, abandoned and burned, west of Brussels.
A specialist Belgian prosecutors unit dealing with organized crime is "pursuing all lines of enquiry," Bijnens said, and is collaborating also with Swiss authorities.
"This was not a random robbery," she stressed. "It was well-prepared -- these were professionals."
According to the AWDC, the global diamond business is worth more than $60 billion each year.
Some $200 million worth of stones move in and out of Antwerp every day, the spokeswoman added.
The diamond community was "shocked by the brutal heist," said Caroline De Wolf of the AWDC in a subsequent statement.
She said traders want "additional security measures" implemented at the Brussels airport.
Switzerland will play hosts Sweden in the final of the world ice hockey championships after each side registered a 3-0 semi-final victory over the United States and Finland respectively. READ () »
Jewellery worth more than $1 million made by Swiss luxury watchmaker and jeweller Chopard and due to be loaned to stars walking the red carpet at the Cannes film festival were stolen from a hotel, French police said on Friday. READ () »
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang embarks this weekend on his first foreign trip since taking office, with a stop in Switzerland on the itinerary and free trade talks between the two countries close to completion. READ () »
The Salvation Army band carrying Switzerland’s hopes into the Eurovision Song Contest was vanquished on Thursday night in Malmö, Sweden. READ () »
More than a third of Geneva’s active working population lives outside the canton, with the majority residing in neighbouring France and the rest largely in the canton of Vaud, according to a report issued on Thursday. READ () »
International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid can count on the support of the Swiss federation in his bid for re-election, the sport's global governing body said on Thursday. READ () »
Switzerland headed to the world ice hockey championship semifinals after a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic on Thursday in Stockholm. READ () »
The chairman of newborn mining and commodities giant Glencore Xstrata, John Bond, was on Thursday axed by its annual general meeting in Zug, just weeks after the Swiss-based group was created via a merger of two key players. READ () »
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has nominated former Kenyan minister and member of parliament Mukhisa Kituyi to lead the UN's Geneva-based trade and development body when the current chief steps down at the end of August. READ () »
Geneva-based luxury goods giant Richemont boosted net profit for the 2012-2013 year by 30 percent as expected, with strong performances in its jewellery and watch divisions and by favourable exchange rates, the group said on Thursday. READ () »