German police arrest 3 suspects in heist of royal jewels
By Melissa Eddy
German police said Tuesday that they had arrested three men with links to organized crime and were searching for two other suspects in connection with the theft of gold, diamonds and other precious stones from three highly prized collections of Baroque royal jewels in a museum in Dresden last year.
Hundreds of officers and special forces from across the country descended on a Berlin neighborhood before dawn, searching 20 apartments, two garages, a cafe and several vehicles, said authorities in Dresden, an eastern German city.
“The stolen art treasures have not yet been found,” Dresden police and prosecutors said in a joint statement, adding that numerous storage media, clothing and small amounts of narcotics had been recovered.
The predawn break-in Nov. 25 at the Jewel Room, one of 10 rooms in the Royal Palace museum known as the Grünes Gewölbe, or Green Vault, made headlines around the world because of the importance of the stolen pieces and the circumstances surrounding the crime.
The pieces were said to have “immeasurable” cultural and historical value, and the theft raised questions about security in German museums after another spectacular break-in at a Berlin museum two years earlier.
In the Dresden heist, the thieves used an ax to break the security glass of the cases holding the jewels and stole 11 pieces, including three treasures dating to the 18th-century nobleman August the Strong, prince-elector of Saxony and little-loved ruler of Lithuania and Poland.
Among the trove were sets known as the “Diamond Rose” and “Queens’ Jewelry,” along with parts of two other collections and several individual items.
Dresden officials identified the three men arrested Tuesday only as German citizens, two age 23 and one age 26. Thomas Geithner, a spokesperson for the Dresden police, said the men were “at home in the Berlin clan milieu,” a reference to organized crime rings in the German capital that authorities there define as being made up of members who are related to one another, or at least have a common ethnic origin.
A judge ordered that the three suspects remain in custody pending the outcome of an investigation on suspicion of gang theft and arson. The three men made no statements regarding the potential charges.
In February, Wissam Remmo, 23, and Ahmed Remmo, 21, two members of a family with known links to a Berlin crime ring, were each sentenced to 4 1/2 years in a youth prison for stealing a 220-pound Canadian gold coin from the Bode Museum in Berlin in 2017. The two men, who are cousins, were also ordered to pay nearly $4 million, the value of the giant coin, which was never recovered and is believed to have been melted down and sold.
Police and prosecutors in Dresden said Tuesday that they were searching for two other suspects in the Green Vault heist, Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohamed Remmo, both 21, issuing warrants with their pictures and asking for tips from the public.
Jürgen Schmidt, prosecutor in Dresden, said that investigators had relied on footage from security cameras at the entrance and inside the museum, as well as using “advanced technology,” to link the suspects detained in Berlin to the Royal Palace museum and to one of two getaway cars used in the heist.
The top security official in Berlin, Andreas Geisel, the city-state’s interior minister, said that officers in the capital had worked closely with their colleagues in Dresden, adding that the arrests were a warning to the criminal clans.
“This is another signal to the scene,” Geisel said in a statement. “Nobody should believe that they can ignore this state and its rules.”
The objects in the Green Vault belong to a collection of Baroque jewels that have survived together largely unscathed from the 18th century. The Royal Palace building was heavily damaged during World War II, but it was painstakingly rebuilt after German reunification and reopened to the public in 2006. The rooms hold a collection of about 3,000 individual objects.
The stolen jewels were not insured, and museum officials would not give a figure for their value, insisting that their worth lay in their historical and cultural significance as part of a complete royal collection.
Because they are unique, the pieces would be extremely difficult to hawk on the open market, leading to fears that they could be broken down, with the gems re-cut and the gold melted.