Belgians check info diamond heist might be bigger

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian authorities said Thursday they were investigating whether the spectacular diamond heist at Brussels airport in February might have yielded much more than the $50 million reported at first.

The Brussels prosecutor’s spokeswoman Anja Bijnens said Thursday that Moroccan investigators cooperating in the probe have said that the booty was “much bigger than originally anticipated.”

De Morgen newspaper said the Moroccan investigators placed the total at 300 million euros ($400 million), but Bijnens would not confirm the figure.

The Antwerp World Diamond Center immediately sought to quash such rumors.

“The value of the diamonds that were stolen in Zaventem are well and truly $50 million,” spokeswoman Caroline De Wolf told VTM network. “Those figures have been confirmed to us the same day by police, transporters, the insurance companies — and they were checked by customs.”

The report emerged after Belgian authorities recently visited counterparts in Morocco, where several threads of the probe have led. If the loss was bigger than reported, that would raise suspicions that much of the cache was being transported illicitly for commercial gain

Seven suspects remain in jail in Belgium and another with links to Morocco is behind bars in Metz, France. There are reports part of the loot ended up in Morocco and Switzerland.

The Feb. 18 heist, one of the biggest diamond thefts of recent times, was as stunning as it was brazen.

The diamonds from the global diamond center of Antwerp had been loaded at Brussels airport on a plane bound for Zurich when robbers, dressed in dark police clothing and hoods, drove through a hole they had cut in the airport fence.

They drove onto the tarmac in two black cars with blue police lights flashing, approached the plane, brandished machine guns, offloaded the diamonds, then fled in an operation which barely took five minutes. Later that night, investigators found the charred remains of a van most likely used by the robbers.

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