The mastermind hunt behind the $128 million Dresden jewelry robbery
On September 2, 2020, seven investigators from a German police special commission, three officers from the Berlin Art Crimes Squad and 100 riot police raided an internet cafe and a residential apartment as they searched for a man who they say sold a SIM card to thieves who stole $128 million worth of irreplaceable jewelry nearly a year earlier in November 2019.
Two months later, 1,600 officers are mobilized for raids across Berlin. The manhunt focused on five jewelry heist suspects, but only three were apprehended. Interpol issued a red notice for the other two – twin brothers from Berlin’s Remmo crime family – who had eluded capture. The following month, Mohammed Remmo was discovered hiding in a car in a Berlin neighborhood within Remmo family territory. He was quickly arrested for his alleged involvement in the robbery, while his brother, Abdul Majed Remmo, remained at large – until May 2021, when German authorities also arrested him.
In all, six men, aged 22 to 28, would face charges related to the burglary of the Green Vault of the Royal Palace in Dresden – a theft that had stunned the nation.
The Green Vault housed a 3,000-piece jewelry collection that over the past centuries had survived many other threats. The jewels were originally collected by Augustus the Strong, an ambitious Saxon king who would later rule Poland in the early 18th century. During World War II, when the Allies wiped out Dresden with successive waves of B-17 bombers, the Nazis evacuated the museum and took the jewels to Königstein Castle where they were safe from bombs. When the Nazis lost and Soviet soldiers invaded Berlin, the jewelry collection was seized as war prizes and taken to the USSR. The gems would somehow find their way back to East Germany in 1958, then still shrouded in the Iron Curtain. In 2006, 16 years after German reunification, the Green Vault was finally reopened in the museum’s original location, with the jewelry once again on display. Media speculation put the collection’s value at $1 billion.
The renovated Royal Palace is a series of eight colorful rooms, and each room progresses in the theme “from amber to ivory to silver and, finally, to the treasure room”, which houses the largest collection of precious stones from all over Europe. This is of course where the Green Vault is. Every square centimeter of the Palais Royal is maximized to “reflect the abundance of the collection”. Imagine gold-gilded framed paintings, thick glass display cases displaying royal jewelry, and mirrored walls reflecting glistening opulence from floor to ceiling.
For the heist team, all that abundance proved too tempting to ignore. They struck at 4:50 a.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019. According to police, the thieves set fire to an electricity distribution box near the Augustus Bridge, causing a power outage in Dresden’s historic quarter and also knocking out streetlights. as the Royal Palace’s alarm system. Seven minutes later, they were inside the museum and heading towards the Green Vault. They entered the building through a window. Sometime earlier – maybe even a week – they had sawn off the window security bars. Then they replaced the cut section and secured it in place until they returned.
Security cameras monitored their progress through the museum’s eight colorful rooms. The thieves pulled out an ax to open the jewelry store’s heavy glass display cases. Nine swings later, the glass was shattered and they grabbed what they could reach. In all, they stole 21 coins, each of which was encrusted with precious stones, including more than 4,300 diamonds.
Security at the Royal Palace was on duty at the time, and at least two guards watched over the axe-wielding robbers as they worked. Instead of confronting them, however, the security guards called the police. Officers were able to respond within 10 minutes, but it was already too late. Thirteen minutes after the robbers were first captured by security cameras, they were three miles away, their getaway car already set on fire. They parked its burnt metal shell in an underground garage, left to be discovered by police with no forensic evidence adorning it.
Leaving the museum, the thieves had used a fire extinguisher to sprinkle the carpet. Roy Ramm, security consultant and former commander of specialist operations at New Scotland Yard, explained the significance of the decision to the press. “Footmarks are very often used to identify shoes used by criminals,” he explained. “Quite often they get rid of gloves and all sorts of other things but forget to get rid of their shoes. So anything that interferes with the forensic trail is – I hesitate to say – helpful.
Basically, then, all the cops had was the getaway car, telling the public that “the burglars fled the scene in an Audi A6” and asking eyewitnesses who might have spotted the vehicle in the early hours of that Monday. morning to show up. Meanwhile, State Police Chief Horst Kretzschmar and Senior Prosecutor Klaus Rövekamp assured the German people that authorities were taking significant steps “to bring the stolen coins from the state treasury back to the citizens of the Free State and to all interested visitors to the Green Vault”. and to catch the culprits.
Soon the investigation turned to the Royal Palace security guards, particularly the two who “did not react adequately”. Why had they just stood idly by while the thieves stole the royal jewels? Museum administrators told police that security personnel simply “follow security protocols”. But the questions persisted. Ramm joined the chorus of skeptics saying, “The only way these things happen is if the thieves have some really good inside information. You should know that there are, for example, no laser beams across the room; you should know that there are no pressure sensitive tabs around the place. It’s extremely risky to do what they did. Ramm conceded, however, “It’s conceivable that they researched the building extensively.”
Eventually, four members of the security team fell under the eye of the state police investigation. The apartments were searched, but no evidence of theft or collusion was found.
And so, the police went back to the getaway car. From CCTV of the vehicle, investigators determined that it was in fact an Audi S6 and not an A6. In May 2020, they thought they had a good idea of the young man who bought the vehicle in the City of Magdeburg. Police provided a description and sketch of the alleged car buyer, saying he was “about 25 years old, had black hair and was thin.”
Then, nearly a year after the robbery, the massive police operation was launched in Berlin, focusing on the Remmo crime family and their assets. Ralph Ghadban, an organized crime expert in Germany, explained to the press how the Remmos work. “The clan protects and helps its members. It can have several thousand members and can dominate and terrorize entire neighborhoods of the city,” he said. Much like Al Capone-style gangsters, Remmo’s leaders were well insulated and protected. Interestingly, the Remmo family was known to carry out their crimes with “powerful and swift” energy.
Needless to say, the raids crippled them greatly. Before the end of 2020, German police seized “77 properties with a total value of 9.3 million euros, accusing them of having been bought with the proceeds of various crimes”. The raids also led investigators to their six suspects – again, a mix of siblings. Two of them have already been placed behind bars after being found guilty of stealing the ‘big maple leaf’, a commemorative 100-kilo gold coin that was removed from the Bode Museum in Berlin. It was never recovered.
All are now on trial together for the Green Vault robbery, a legal proceeding that is expected to last until October. Twin brothers Mohammed and Abdul Majed Remmo face up to 10 years in prison. Two of the other previously unconvicted Remmo family members face 15-year sentences. And the Big Maple Leaf duo would also add 15 years to their existing sentences if convicted.
As for the royal jewels? The alleged thieves declined to disclose their whereabouts. Police have offered a $556,000 reward for information leading to the jewelry’s return, but Juergen Schmidt of the Dresden prosecutor’s office recently admitted, “So far there is no hot lead.” To make matters worse, Schmidt explained that under German law, “even if convicted, the defendants cannot be compelled to testify in court about the whereabouts of the treasures.”
For now at least, the jewels are gone. And with each passing day, the chances that the Remmo family will be able to accomplish what neither the Allied Powers nor the Soviet Union could ever – remove them from Germany forever increase.