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Dresden: Inside the $128 million heist that shocked the world — and the police chase that followed

Contributors Design by Natalie CrokerMarco Chacon

It took at the very least 9 laborious blows from an ax to smash the glass case in Dresden’s historic Green Vault. Once the glass shattered, the two masked thieves grabbed 21 priceless diamond-studded artifacts and disappeared.

It was November 25, 2019, and in the area of some quick minutes, a few of the world’s most respected historic jewels had vanished.

A trial with the six males accused of finishing up considered one of the largest jewel thefts in historical past has began in Germany on Friday, January 28. But the thriller of what occurred to the treasures they’re alleged to have stolen endures.

This is the story of a heist that shocked the world — and the meticulous police work that led to the seize of six members of the household gang that police say are believed to be answerable for it.

Adorned with greater than 4,300 diamonds, the treasures stolen from the Green Vault have been price at the very least 113 million euro ($128 million), in line with the state prosecutor’s workplace. However, the director of Dresden’s State Art Collection, Marion Ackermann, mentioned their materials worth would not even start to replicate their “incalculable” historic and cultural significance.

Nearly all the stolen artifacts have been made throughout the rule of Frederick Augustus III, the final Elector of Saxony, who was later generally known as Frederick Augustus I, the first King of Saxony.

They included a 1780s hat clasp embellished with 15 giant and greater than 100 small diamonds, in addition to a 96-centimeter (38-inch) sword and a scabbard, or sheath, which collectively contained greater than 800 diamonds.

The historic Green Vault is situated inside Dresden Castle. Credit: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

But it wasn’t simply the immense worth of the loot that captured the world’s consideration, it was the brazenness with which the raid was allegedly carried out.

Roy Ramm, a safety guide and former commander of specialist operations at New Scotland Yard in London, informed CNN that crimes like this are more and more uncommon.

“Technical security has improved over the years with CCTV alarm systems and all kinds of high-tech protections, so [there is a high] risk of early detection and being actually caught in the act … you need some inside information and a very, very detailed plan,” he mentioned.

According to investigators, 4 months earlier than the theft, a suspect went to the metropolis of Magdeburg, 180 miles northwest of Dresden, to gather a darkish blue used Audi S6: the future getaway automotive.

The car had already been deregistered, however the police mentioned the gang went even additional of their efforts to disguise its origins, altering its coloration to silver and leaving solely the roof darkish.

A handout photo from the police shows one of the stolen pieces.

A handout picture from the police reveals considered one of the stolen items. Credit: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen

“What this says to me is that these people planned meticulously; they were running through, in their own minds, how the robbery would take place, and what the police reaction would be, and all the time they were thinking of ways of disrupting the police activity or giving themselves more time,” Ramm mentioned.

“If the car was seen by a bystander leaving the scene, and that person was able to give a description of the car, once the police started making inquiries into that vehicle, those inquiries would become more complicated, more difficult and more time consuming to resolve.”

And police say the gang’s preparations did not cease with the getaway automotive.

Just a few days earlier than the heist, the bars throughout the window the place the thieves entered the vault have been reduce, in line with authorities. Removing the steel grille fully might need raised the suspicion of passers-by, so the suspects coated their tracks by quickly sticking the bars again in place with glue, police mentioned.

The window was in a blind spot, so it wasn’t seen on safety cameras and the complete space was in “complete darkness,” the Saxon State Ministry of Culture and Tourism mentioned in response to an inquiry from the Saxon parliament. A movement sensor that ought to have been triggered by the theft did not go off. The ministry mentioned the alarm had gone off the day earlier than the crime and safety guards did not reactivate it. CNN reached out to the state prosecutor’s workplace for extra particulars about the alarm failure, however the workplace would not remark as a result of the investigation is ongoing.

At about 4:50 a.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019, the gang sprang into motion, in line with the police.

First, police mentioned, the thieves or their accomplices set fireplace to an influence distribution field close to the Green Vault. This triggered the streetlights close by to exit, plunging the complete space into darkness.

Next, at 4:57, they headed for the vault.

The police mentioned safety digital camera video confirmed the thieves knew the place they have been going. After coming into the constructing via the window of the mirrored Hall of Treasures, police imagine they hurried via the vault’s Heraldry Room straight to the Jewelry Room the place the museum’s most respected items are on show.

Security digital camera footage reveals it took the robbers just some minutes to get inside, smash the show case, seize the jewels and go away. The thieves could not steal all the items in the show, as a result of some have been sewn into the instances, Ackermann informed German public broadcaster ZDF.

But earlier than they made their escape, the robbers sprayed the room with a powder fireplace extinguisher to cowl their tracks, the police mentioned.

“Footmarks are very often used to identify the footwear used in by criminals,” mentioned Ramm. “Fairly often, they’ll get rid of gloves and all sorts of other things but forget to get rid of their shoes. So, anything that disrupts the forensic trail is — I hesitate to say it — useful.”

Police mentioned the robbers escaped the scene in the Audi and that, simply 13 minutes after the CCTV digital camera captured the first photographs of them coming into the vault, the gang’s automotive had been deserted and set on fireplace in an underground storage some three miles away. The police related the automotive to the theft nearly instantly.

“It is incredibly difficult to use a vehicle and not leave DNA behind,” mentioned Ramm. “There have been lots of cases around the world where tiny amounts of DNA have been found and it was enough to tie the person to a car … so burning the car was all about the DNA.”

The police operation, codenamed Operation Epaulette after considered one of the artifacts stolen that day, started the second the museum’s safety employees made their first emergency name — whereas the robbers have been nonetheless inside the constructing.

The vault’s two safety guards noticed the theft unfolding on safety displays however didn’t intervene. That choice was later questioned by the police, however Ackerman mentioned safety employees had followed the security protocols .

Ramm mentioned detectives doubtless began by trying carefully at the museum itself.

“The only way that these things happen is if the robbers have got really good inside information,” he defined. “You’ve got to know that there aren’t, for example, laser beams across the room, you’ve got to know that there aren’t pressure sensitive tabs around the place. It is extremely risky to do what they did.

“It is conceivable that they’ve carried out prolonged analysis on the constructing,” Ramm mentioned.

Saxony’s State Prosecutor’s workplace mentioned in March 2020 it was investigating four security personnel from the museum. Last week, the State Prosecutor’s office told CNN the investigation is ongoing. A spokesperson said a criminal complaint was lodged against two guards by a private individual, alleging they “didn’t react adequately and stop the theft.”

He said two other security guards were investigated. One was suspected of handing documents about the Green Vault and its security systems to the perpetrators and was arrested four days after the heist. The other guard was released following an investigation, he said.

The spokesperson added that a fourth guard was being investigated as “there may be proof of an motion in relation to the alarm system, which may have facilitated the theft.”

By September 2020, police said they had received hundreds of tip-offs and searched several Berlin properties believed to be connected to the robbery.

They also found out more about the getaway car — including where it had been resprayed or refoiled — and released a composite image of one of the suspects.

Then, on November 17, 2020, almost a year after the Green Vault’s prized treasures were stolen, the police launched a huge security operation in Berlin, bringing in special forces and 1,638 officers from across Germany.

They were targeting five members of the infamous Remmo Clan, one of Germany’s most powerful crime families, which operates mostly in Berlin.

Ralph Ghadban, a political scientist and an expert on clans in Germany, said the way the heist was allegedly carried out and the number of suspects and their possible accomplices involved shows the power the clans wield.

“The clan protects and helps its members, it will possibly have many hundreds of members and can dominate and terrorize total quarters in the metropolis,” he said, adding that the “forceful and fast” motion displayed throughout the heist is considered one of the clan’s calling playing cards.

The police introduced the arrest of three of the five prime suspects during the operation in Berlin.

The police identified the two suspects still on the run as twin brothers Abdul Majed R. and Mohamed R.; a massive manhunt was launched to find them.

Interpol issued a red notice for the twins, but it took another month before Mohammed was caught in a car in the Berlin neighborhood of Neukölln — on the Remmo clan’s turf.

Abdul Majed remained at large for another five months before he too was detained on May 17, 2021.

A sixth and final suspect in the case was apprehended in August 2021, police said.

A month later, prosecutors in the case finally charged all six men with crimes including serious gang theft and arson. Three of the suspects are brothers and the other three are their cousins. Two of the accused were previously convicted for stealing a 100-kilo commemorative gold coin known as the “Big Maple Leaf” from Berlin’s Bode Museum and are now serving prison sentences for that.

CNN has reached to the representatives of the accused for comment.

The suspects may be in custody, but for the police, the investigation is far from over.

“Something of this nature, the place the gadgets themselves are irreplaceable, most of the detectives that I’ve labored with over the years would suppose it is a job type of half carried out, to not have recovered the gadgets,” mentioned Ramm.

The display case in the Jewel Room remains empty.

The show case in the Jewel Room stays empty. Credit: Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance/Getty Images

So, what happened to those priceless jewels stolen from the display case that day in November 2019?

Ramm and other experts believe the likeliest scenario is the one the museum’s curators feared the most: that the stolen items have been broken up, the stones sold on, and the precious metals melted down.

“All of that takes group,” said Ramm. “It could be very uncommon that the individuals who truly stole the gadgets will probably be the individuals that in the end disposed of them. There will probably be a community and that’s why the police will probably be very, very eager to pay money for cellphones, computer systems, something that reveals the hyperlinks between the six individuals that they’re placing on trial shortly and every other prison teams.”

Hard drives, computer systems and cell telephones have been certainly seized throughout the mammoth police investigation however the stolen treasures themselves have vanished with out a hint.

The Green Vault remained closed to guests for months, on account of the investigation and later the coronavirus pandemic. When it reopened in May 2020, the burglarized cupboard was repaired however left intentionally empty.

The trial is scheduled to final till at the very least the finish of October. If convicted, the suspects face potential jail sentences of a number of years.

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