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Israeli intel firm says it helped solve billion-dollar German jewel heist

An Israeli business intelligence firm led by a former head of the Shin Bet security service helped achieve a recent breakthrough in the investigation into the brazen 2019 theft of 18th-century jewels from a unique collection in Germany believed to be worth over $1 billion, according to a report over the weekend.

Tuesday saw a massive police operation in Berlin, with more than 1,500 police carrying out a series of searches in the city and arresting three people. The suspects, identified only as German citizens, two aged 23 and one 26, were arrested on suspicion of organized robbery and arson.

Police issued photos of two others, wanted on the same charges, identifying them as Abdul Majed Remmo, 21, and Mohamed Remmo, 21.

The identity of the latest detained suspects is not yet clear. But Israel’s Channel 12 news reported the country’s CGI Group assisted the effort to hunt down the thieves.

The November 25, 2019, crime saw thieves break into Dresden’s Green Vault, one of the world’s oldest museums, during the night, and make off with three “priceless” sets of 18th century jewelry.

Picture taken on April 9, 2019 shows one of the rooms in the Green Vault (Gruenes Goelbe) at the Royal Palace in Dresden, eattsren Germany – A state museum in Dresden containing billions of euros worth of baroque treasures has been robbed, police in Germany confirmed on November 25, 2019. The Green Vault at Dresden’s Royal Palace, which is home to around 4000 precious objects made of ivory, gold, silver and jewels, was reportedly broken into at 5am on early morning. (Photo by Sebastian Kahnert / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT

The Green Vault is one of the world’s oldest museums. It was established in 1723 and contains the treasury of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, comprising around 4,000 objects of gold, precious stones and other materials.

Shortly after the theft, authorities offered a €500,000 ($593,000) reward for information leading to the recovery of the jewels or the arrest of the thieves. But little progress had been made over the past year.

Members of the same extended family were convicted earlier this year for a similarly spectacular heist, the theft of a 100-kilogram (220 pound) Canadian gold coin dubbed the “Big Maple Leaf” from Berlin’s Bode Museum in 2017. Cousins Ahmed Remmo and Wissam Remmo, along with a friend who worked as a security guard at the museum, were all convicted of that crime and sentenced to several years in prison.

“Immediately after the robbery we were approached by a European law firm that asked that we look at the security arrangements at the museum,” CGI Group’s Yaakov Peri, who led the Shin Bet agency between 1988 and 1994, told Channel 12.

“I can’t take the credit for solving [the case], I can say we assisted,” Peri said. “Early on in the probe it appeared likely that the thieves had cooperation on the inside. One of the museum employees likely cooperated with the infiltrators.”

Later on, CGI Group managed to establish contact with one of the alleged thieves on the dark net — a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized anonymity-providing tools. The person offered to sell them two of the stolen stones for some $25 million.

“We gave all the material we had to the chief prosecutor in Dresden,” Peri said. “We cooperated with [the potential suspect] as though we will come and buy the stolen goods. We created a map marking out the areas where they offered to make the sale. This too we sent to the German prosecutors.

“There wasn’t a follow-up on that, but we can see that the areas we pointed to saw the arrests of the German crime family that the crime has been attributed to,” added Peri.

In Tuesday’s massive operation to arrest the suspects, a total of 1,638 police officers from Saxony, Berlin and several other states, as well as federal special police forces, searched a total of 18 locations, including 10 apartments and also garages and vehicles.

Their target was “art treasures and possible evidence such as computer storage media, clothing and tools,” Dresden police and prosecutors said. The searches, focused on Berlin’s Neukoelln district, did not immediately turn up any of the missing treasures.

“We’d have to have a lot of luck in order to find them a year after the crime,” Dresden police spokesman Thomas Geithner told reporters.

The director of Dresden’s museums, Marion Ackermann, said the raids and arrests were an encouraging development in the case.

A Golden Coffee Service (1697–1701) on display at the Green Vault in Dresden. (Wikipedia/Hajotthu/CC BY-SA)

“Of course we hope that the jewelry sets will be found and that they soon be able to be returned to their original location,” she said.

Berlin’s top security official, Andreas Geisel, said the raids Tuesday should serve as a warning to organized crime families in general.

“Nobody should believe that he set himself above the rules of the state,” Geisel said.

In March, prosecutors and police said they had determined that an Audi S6 used in the theft and later set alight in a Dresden garage was sold to an unidentified buyer in August.

They said they believe a young man who picked up the car from the seller in Magdeburg, another eastern German city, was connected to the break-in and released a sketch of a slim, dark-haired man believed to be about 25 years old.

The car may have been repainted before the break-in, authorities said at the time, bolstering suspicions that the theft was planned well in advance.

German news agency dpa quoted prosecutors as saying they believe at least six people were directly involved in the heist.

Header: This April 4, 2019, photo shows a part of the collection at the Jewelry Room of Dresden’s Green Vault in Dresden, Germany. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)

Source: TOI and AP

Notes:

Bellow there are the first informations, as published immediately after the theft.

Dresden Green Vault robbery: Fears historic jewels may be lost forever

Diamond-encrusted swords and intricately designed brooches stolen from a former royal palace in Germany may never be seen again, experts warn.

The items, part of a collection created in 1723 by Saxony’s ruler, Augustus the Strong, are so recognisable that thieves are likely to break them up.

Artworks taken from the Dresden Green Vault are described as “priceless”.

The head of Dresden state museums, Marion Ackermann, said destroying the artworks would be a “terrible idea”.

“We are talking here about items of inestimable art-historical and cultural-historical value,” she said. “We cannot put an exact value on them because they are priceless.”

Police have released a series of photos of the stolen jewels and appealed for witnesses.

The thieves broke into the vault, known in German as Dresden’s Grünes Gewölbe, at dawn on Monday after a fire at the building’s power distributor appears to have turned off the alarm system.

An inspection of the museum afterwards revealed that a number of items within the three diamond jewellery sets reported stolen were still in place. Seven other sets that make up the collection were left untouched.

Thieves had managed to gain access to a display case that contained about 100 objects, police said.

Ms Ackermann told reporters she was “shocked by the brutality of the break-in”, adding that criminals would have escaped with more jewellery had objects not been so well secured within their cases.

Saxony’s art minister, Eva Maria, said the stolen items were “to a certain extent the crown jewels of the Saxon kings” and that “they belong to Saxony”.

Art Recovery International, which describes itself as “a behind the scenes force” in the world of art, said museums like the Green Vault were “under siege by barbarian criminal gangs who melt down gold and carve out precious stones with no regard to the importance of cultural heritage”.

The founder of the company, Christopher Marinello, told the BBC that the robbery in Dresden was “a theft of epic proportions”.

Popular German daily Bild said the thieves had grabbed jewels worth €1bn (£855m).

“This is a major collection of jewels and intact designs containing gold, diamonds, precious gems and rubies,” Mr Marinello said.

“I knew exactly what was going to happen once I heard what was taken – that we were not going to see these items remain intact.”

Details of the robbery are still under investigation and the full value of the missing items has not yet been reported.

How did the thieves get in?

The thieves – still on the run – removed part of an iron grille on a ground-floor window, then smashed the glass to gain access to the building.

A car found burning in Dresden early on Monday may have been the getaway vehicle used by the burglars, police say.

The museum had guards on duty at night, Ms Ackermann said.

What is the Green Vault?

The collection is housed in eight ornate rooms in the Residenzschloss – a former royal palace.

Three rooms were destroyed by Allied bombing in World War Two, but after the war the museum was restored to its previous glory.

It is called the Green Vault because some rooms were decorated with malachite-green paint.

The most valuable items are in the palace’s historic section on the ground floor.

There are about 3,000 items of jewellery and other treasures decorated with gold, silver, ivory and pearl. They include a figure of a moor studded with emeralds and a 648-carat sapphire – a royal gift from Russia’s Tsar Peter the Great.

One of the most valuable jewels is a 41-carat green diamond currently on show in New York.

The collection was founded by Augustus the Strong. He was Elector of Saxony – a German prince entitled to take part in the election of the emperor – and later king of Poland.

Source: BBC – first published on 26 November 2019