Luxury car dealer from Cote d’Azur under arrest over £30m airport diamond heist

Eleven held in custody after swoops in three countries, with cash and jewels recovered

Following a wave of arrests across three countries earlier this week, an investigation into one of the world’s biggest diamond heists is honing in on the alleged masterminds of the plot in which armed robbers stole £30m-worth of jewels from the hold of a Swiss plane at Brussels airport.

A French luxury-car dealer with a prison record for fraud has been identified as the key suspect in the spectacular theft, which involved eight machine-gun toting robbers in police uniforms, with blue flashing lights on their cars. The raid was carried out in February under the noses of passengers on a Helvetic Airways plane loaded with diamonds bound for Zurich.

The robbery took less than five minutes, and the gang managed to escape by driving at high speed through a hole they had previously cut in the airport security fence. Initially police had no idea who was behind the operation.

But on Wednesday Belgian investigators announced that police had arrested 31 suspects in a massive cross-border operation conducted in Belgium, France and Switzerland. State prosecutors in Brussels said they had also tracked down a “significant amount” of diamonds and cash.

Eleven of those held were reported to be still in custody yesterday. Eight have been charged in connection with the theft. Belgian prosecutors said they believed that a French luxury-car dealer, identified as Marc Bertoldi, 43, who was arrested in France on Tuesday, was a key suspect. They said he was probably one of the gunmen.

Mr Bertoldi’s address is listed as being in a wealthy neighbourhood of the seaside resort of Antibes on the Cote d’Azur in the south of France. He also owns a restaurant in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.

Jean-Marc Meilleur, a Belgian prosecutor’s spokesman, said Mr Bertoldi had a “very heavy judicial background”. He has previous convictions for robbery and fraud and has served a prison term. Belgium has applied for his extradition from France, and a court is scheduled  to rule on the request next week.

Investigators say that Mr Bertoldi’s appearance in Geneva after the theft provided them with a breakthrough. After Mr Bertoldi’s arrest in France on Tuesday,  Swiss police said they had tracked down an as yet unidentified Swiss lawyer and another suspect identified only as a property owner.

The two men were apparently caught as one gave the other the key to a cellar where some of the stolen diamonds were held. The jewels were recovered and the two men were arrested and are still in detention. It was not clear yesterday whether they had been charged.

Oliver Rondu, Mr Bertoldi’s lawyer, said that his client had denied the accusations and was willing to be extradited to Belgium to explain his innocence. “He wants to go to Belgium as quickly as possible to explain himself because he says he has done nothing,” Mr Rondu said.

Francis Canonica, a lawyer representing the unnamed Swiss lawyer in police custody in Switzerland, also said that his client had denied any wrongdoing. He told the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve, “My client has faith that ultimately he will be acquitted.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London