A large shipment of diamonds was stolen at Brussels airport Monday evening as they were loaded on a plane to Zurich. According to initial reports, 50,000 carats of diamonds worth some €350 million ($468 million) were taken in the daring heist. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) stated that the value of stolen diamonds is $50 million.
Eight armed men in two vans crashed a fence surrounding the tarmac at 7:47pm local time, the airport said in a statement.
"The men in the car rode to a Swiss airplane where they stole valuable goods," it said.
According to reports, the two vans rushed to a Brink's vehicle as the security team was loading the cargo on the plane.
Brussels prosecutor's spokeswoman Anja Bijnens told AP Tuesday that the men, who were armed and masked, left the airport through the same opening in the fence. There was no shooting and no injuries were reported in the incident.
Local police are investigating if a burnt vehicle later found on the outskirts of Brussels was one of the getaway cars.
“The Antwerp diamond community is shocked by the brutal heist of late last night. Armed robbers took off with around US$ 50 million worth in diamonds, both rough and polished stones,” AWDC said in a statement.
“We find it hard to understand how a robbery such as yesterday's heist could take place. We are currently awaiting the results of the investigation but we do fear the damage for Antwerp, the world's leading trade centre, is significant.”
Diamond thieves have targeted the Brussels airport a number of times in the past. Four armed thieves robbed a Federal Express office at the airport in November 2005, making off with a reported “significant” amount of diamond jewelry. According to an industry security expert, the robbers probably had inside information.
Brussels airport used to be notorious for its security problems. In 2001, a dozen airlines and several shipping companies refused to use the facility until security was improved. An audit in July of that year concluded that additional measures were advisable, considering the high volume of valuables handled at the airport.
Following the audit, the Belgian government and airport authorities, decided to adopt 47-additional security measures, including an increased number of police patrols. The airport also promised to invest €1.5 million in additional security that year.
Courier company Malca-Amit, that shipped some of the stolen goods, said it has already contacted its underwriters, expressing confidence that claims arising from the theft will be settled expediently.
"We have received full assurance from our underwriters that claims will be settled as quickly as possible after all documentation is submitted," said Malca-Amit CEO Nigel Paxman.