A spectacular jewel heist in which armed robbers coolly snatched £30 million in diamonds from a plane at Brussels airport ended in near farce and the arrest of most of the suspects because of the ham-fisted way the thieves tried to sell off the gems, lawyers in the case have revealed.
The brazen raid involved eight machine-gun toting robbers in fake police uniforms and with blue flashing lights on their cars. It was carried out last February under the noses of passengers on board a Helvetic Airways plane loaded with diamonds and bound for Zurich.
The robbery was over in minutes. The gang fled undetected, driving at high speed through a hole cut in the airport security fence. At first police had no idea who was behind the operation, but last month 30 people were detained in dawn raids across Europe.
Lawyers have since revealed that the thieves’ frantic and bungled attempts to get rid of their booty was the main reason for the arrests. “Today he can’t understand himself why he was so stupid,” said Shahram Dini the lawyer for the Swiss real estate agent, Pascal Pont, one of the chief suspects who is alleged to have been asked to sell the gems.
Shortly after the robbery, Mr Pont is alleged to have received a big sack stuffed with packets of stolen diamonds from Marc Bertoldi, a convicted car trafficker, Casablanca restaurant owner and friend who is the other key suspect.. Mr Pont who is currently being investigated for receiving stolen property, apparently had no idea how to exchange the diamonds for cash.
“He was naïve,” Mr Dini said of his client in an interview with the New York Times, “He is someone who has a thriving real estate business, doesn’t need more money and has a family and children. He didn’t do it for himself. It was a favour for someone who charmed and also scared him,” he added saying: “He knew they were diamonds. He realised he had a problem.”
The focus of the case now centres on the relationship between Mr Pont and Mr Bertoldi, an entrepreneur with a previous conviction in France for trafficking in stolen cars and whose own car was found to have been in the vicinity of the diamond heist.
The two men are both fast car enthusiasts and met in 2011 in Casablanca, where Mr Bertoldi has a restaurant and Mr Pont, a holiday home. Mr Dini said his client came to admire and fear Mr Bertoldi. But their relationship also led police to monitor Mr Pont’s phone calls. Last month officers discovered the sack of diamonds, still unsold, in a Geneva cellar selected by Mr Pont. Both men have been released from jail but remain subject to an ongoing police investigation..