Trial of six men accused of daring to steal £95m from Dresden opens | Germany

The trial of six men accused of stealing 18th century jewelery from a German museum has started in Dresden amid tight security and questions over whether the treasures will ever be recovered.

The defendants, who are siblings and cousins ​​between the ages of 23 and 28, appeared in court handcuffed and holding large folders in front of their faces. They had jackets slung over their heads to avoid being photographed.

The proceedings are taking place in the district court of Dresden, where the men appeared behind high security glass.

One of the items stolen during the raid. Photo: Polizeidirektion Dresden/Reuters

In accordance with German court practice, they were only referred to by the initial of their surname, however R. Media reports identified them as part of a Berlin clan consisting of 10 families and over 1,000 member who has been held responsible for other high profile burglaries in recent years.

The men are charged with aggravated collective theft and serious arson, according to the Dresden prosecutor’s office. The theft took place in November 2019 when masked men broke into the city’s Grünes Gewölbe, or Green Vault, and stole 21 jewels containing more than 4,300 diamonds and valued at just under 114 million euros ( £95 million).

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In what appears to have been a carefully choreographed heist, planning for which began the previous summer, the thieves first turned on a circuit breaker panel, plunging the street lights around the palace housing the museum into darkness.

In the early morning hours of November 25, several people then entered the elaborate marble and mirrored room housing the jewelry and smashed a display case with an ax 56 times in less than 30 seconds before bending over the shards to grab. Items. with fishing twine. Items included an epaulette, a rapier, two shoe buckles, a hatpin, brooches, a jewel of the Polish Order of the White Eagle, a large diamond rose, and several skirt buttons.

A diamond-encrusted sword stolen during the raid.
A diamond-encrusted sword stolen during the raid. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

The thieves used fire extinguisher foam to cover their tracks and quickly fled in their Audi getaway car. The whole flight is believed to have lasted about 10 minutes. The Audi was set on fire in an underground car park before the men drove a Mercedes disguised as a taxi back to Berlin.

Two of the suspects on trial have already been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for their involvement in the theft of the Great Maple Leaf, a 100kg gold coin worth 3.7 million euros in Berlin Bode Museum in 2017.

The defendants were seized after a year-long investigation by 40 officers, which included a series of raids involving hundreds of other officers who arrested three of the men in November 2020 and the other three in the following months.

The stolen items were acquired in the 18th century by Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland, who had a fierce rivalry with French King Louis XIV that extended to their collections of precious jewelry.

The jewels survived Allied bombings during World War II, but were later removed by Red Army soldiers and seized as spoils of war. They were returned to Dresden in 1958.

Authorities initially offered a €500,000 reward to anyone who led police to the location of the jewels. This has since been increased to €1.5 million following a private initiative to collect donations.

The defendants have so far refused to answer questions.

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Head of Dresden’s art collections, Marion Ackermann, said she reviewed security measures at her museums after exhibits were stolen from the Bode, where serious security flaws, including a faulty alarm system and a broken window, were discovered to have facilitated the theft.

The Dresden robbers, however, still managed to prepare for their robbery unnoticed a week in advance by using hydraulic bolt cutters to punch a hole in a window grille which they then glued back together to hide the break. On the night of the crime, a scanner that creates invisible barriers that trigger an alarm was turned off, although how this happened is unclear. The presence of the thieves in the building was not noticed until they appeared on security cameras, but it was considered too dangerous to apprehend them and they had escaped before police arrived.

Among the questions it is hoped the lawsuit will answer is whether the thieves had insider help at the museum. Evidence suggests they were aware of parts of the museum that security cameras could not pick up.

Ackermann said before the trial that she lived in hope that the items had not been broken for the sale of the individual diamonds and that she was optimistic that the publicity surrounding the trial would raise awareness among people in the trade who could be invited. to buy them. .

Green Vault manager Marius Winzeler told German media, “We won’t rest until we get the jewels back.”

The trial, involving 14 defense lawyers from across Germany, three prosecutors and representatives of the juvenile court due to the age of two of the defendants, twin brothers, at the time of the crime, is expected to continue at least until at the end of October. .

Prosecutors continue to separately investigate 40 other people in connection with the heist, including four men suspected of entering the museum disguised as tourists to gather strategic information about its security, layout and personnel movements.

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