DRESDEN: Police officers bring an arrested man into the building of the Higher Regional Court in Dresden, eastern Germany, yesterday after raids of properties in connection with a spectacular heist on Green Vault museum in Dresden's Royal Palace on November 25, 2019. - AFP

BERLIN: German police yesterday arrested three suspects and raided properties over a spectacular heist a year ago in which more than a dozen diamond-encrusted items were snatched from a state museum in Dresden. Investigators were searching 18 properties in Berlin, including 10 apartments as well as garages and vehicles, in connection with what local media had dubbed one of the biggest art heists in modern history.

The main target of the probe was the so-called "Remmo clan", a family of Arab origin notorious for ties to organized crime whose members were in February convicted in another high-profile museum break-in in central Berlin. Prosecutors did not name the three detained, but said they are German citizens. They added however that they were hunting another two suspects of the Remmo family, Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohammed Remmo, both 21, over the Dresden heist.

All five are accused of "serious gang robbery and two counts of arson," said Dresden prosecutors. The robbers had launched their brazen raid on the Green Vault museum in Dresden's Royal Palace on November 25, 2019. Having initiated a partial power cut and broken in through a window, they had snatched priceless 18th-century jewelry from the collection of the Saxon ruler August the Strong.

Items stolen included a sword whose hilt is encrusted with nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, and a shoulderpiece which contains the famous 49-carat Dresden white diamond, Dresden's Royal Palace had said. The director of Dresden's state art collection, Marion Ackermann, had refused to put a value on the stolen items, calling them "priceless".

Tuesday's raids in the investigation codenamed "Epaulette" after the glittering shoulderpiece were "focused on the search for the stolen art treasures and possible evidence, such as data storage media, clothing and tools," police and prosecutors said in a statement. Experts have warned that the chances of recovering the haul are slim, with the precious stones likely re-cut in the year that has lapsed since the crime.

100-kg gold coin
Dramatic CCTV footage released at the time showed one of the robbers breaking into a display case with an axe. Bild daily said the robbers first drove off with the loot in an Audi before abandoning and setting fire to the vehicle. They then reportedly climbed into a Mercedes that they had been painted over in taxi colors, using it in their getaway race back to Berlin. Police hunting for the suspects had launched several appeals, offering up to half a million euros reward for information leading to their arrests.

Yesterday, around 1,600 officers were deployed in the raids and arrests, with special reinforcements called in from across the country to help. The Remmos had been implicated in another high-profile museum robbery in the heart of Berlin in which a 100-kilogramme (220-pound) gold coin was stolen. Two out of three of the suspects convicted in February in that case belonged to the family.

Police have found no trace of the Canadian coin since the late-night heist in March 2017 from the Bode Museum, located close to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Berlin apartment. The "Big Maple Leaf", one of five minted in 2007, is considered the world's second-largest gold coin after the one-ton Australian Kangaroo issued in 2012. Investigators probing the Dresden break-in had said they were examining links to the gold coin robbery.

In recent years, so-called "clans" of primarily Middle Eastern origin have become a particular focus for police in Berlin. Investigators last year targeted the Remmos with the seizure of 77 properties worth a total of 9.3 million euros, charging that they were purchased with the proceeds of various crimes, including a 2014 bank robbery.

In another huge heist this month, robbers hit a German customs office, making off with 6.5 million euros ($7.7 million) in cash. Investigators said they drilled through a basement cellar through to the vault, snatching bags of cash. Police have offered 100,000 euros in reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of the suspects. - AFP