London Millennium Dome, 2000
Using a JCB digger to ram down fences, four robbers attempted to steal De Beers diamonds worth over £350m, including the 203 carat De Beers Millennium Star, from a display at the Millenium Dome on 7 November, in what police said would have been the largest robbery in the world if it has been successful. But the Metropolitan Police had expected the raid and replaced the diamonds with replicas. Under the codename Operation Magician, officers dressed as cleaners had waited for the would-be robbers, and seized their getaway speedboat.
Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, 2005
Dressed in stolen uniforms belonging to the Dutch Airline KLM and driving a stolen KLM van, thieves hijacked an armoured truck carrying diamonds at Schiphol Airport in February 2005. The armoured van contained uncut diamonds worth an estimated $118m. They have never been recovered.
Harry Winston Store, Paris, 2008
Dressed as women, four gun-wielding robbers entered the Harry Winston Store on Avenue Montaigne near the Champs-Elysees in December 2008 demanding diamonds and jewellery. Addressing the staff by name, the cross-dressing gang walked away with a haul worth $108m. Twenty-five people were later arrested. Some of the jewels, valued at $25m, were found in 2011 hidden in a Paris sewer.
The posh Harry Winston jewelry store in Paris was the scene of a 2008 smash-and-grab robbery in which four men dressed as women stormed into the store, pushed employees and customers into a corner at gun-point, stole almost every piece of jewelry on display and emptied two storage cases in the back. They made a fast getaway with more than $100 million in merchandise, making it the largest jewel robbery ever in France and one of the largest in the world.
The thieves appeared to have inside knowledge of the store, The Guardian reports, because they knew the location of supposedly top-secret storage boxes and referred to staff by their first names. Eight men were arrested in what the French media dubbed the “steal of the century.” The man believed to be the mastermind, Douadi Yahiaoui, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the BBC reports, while others received as little as nine months in jail.
According to the BBC, police found $19 million worth of jewelry from the heist stuffed in a drain in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, but much of the loot has never been recovered.
Antwerp Diamond Centre, Belgium, 2003
In one of the most complicated heists to date, four thieves rented an office space and analysed alarm systems before obtaining keys to the Diamond Centre’s vaults and making away with a haul estimated to be worth $100m in February 2003. The thieves, later identified as part of the criminal ring dubbed the ‘School of Turin’, were arrested but the jewels are yet to be found.
The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) in Belgium is the diamond-exchange capital of the world, and in February 2003, it was the site of a $100 million diamond heist.
As U.S. News and World Report says:
A group of Italian thieves known as the “The School of Turin” broke into the underground vault of the Antwerp Diamond Center, then protected by infrared heat detectors, sophisticated locks [with 100 million possible combinations], and eight other layers of security. Despite this, the gang successfully looted 123 of the vault’s 160 safes without setting off any alarms or leaving behind any signs of forced entry — security did not notice until the following day.
An Italian man named Leonardo Notarbartolo (a career thief) was convicted of being the ringleader and has since been paroled. He had rented an office in the AWDC shortly before the robbery and used its location to gain access to the bank vault. But he never gave away his accomplices or the location of the diamonds.
Northern Bank, Ireland 2004
Robbers make off with £26.5 million, from the Northern Bank in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The heist is blamed on the Irish Republican Army.
Brazilian Central Bank, Fortaleza
Thieves dig an 80-metre (260-foot) tunnel into a Brazilian Central Bank branch in the northeastern city of Fortaleza and steal 164 million reals (£54 million), in Brazil’s biggest-ever bank heist.
The Guinness Book of World Records awarded this heist the title of “greatest robbery of a bank,” and the plot sounds like something straight out of a movie.
In 2005, a group of men rented a property and set up shop posing as a landscape company a few blocks from the Banco Central in Fortaleza, Brazil. They spent three months digging a tunnel about 256 feet long and 13 feet below street level from their office to directly below the bank.
Over the course of a weekend in August, they used the tunnel to get into the bank and managed to avoid or disable all the bank’s censors, thanks to a tip from a bank employee. From there, they broke through nearly 4 feet of steel-reinforced concrete to enter the vault and stole five containers weighing more than 7,000 pounds and holding about $70 million worth of reals (Brazilian currency).
Bank employees didn’t know anything had happened until they arrived at work Monday morning. And by then, the robbers had already fled the area. However, they made two mistakes that led to their demise. As OZY reports:
Outside, police would later find a large amount of white powder — chalk the robbers had used to cover their fingerprints. And they nearly succeeded, except for one print, their first slip. The second mistake? A member of the gang bought 10 cars at once the next day, paying cash and raising red flags in this poor region of Brazil. Improbably, the police managed to catch up with the trailer carrying those cars in another state, and inside three of the vehicles were bundles of 50 real bills.
Three dozen people were accused of participating in the heist; 26 ended up in jail for various crimes, and a few of them escaped. But only about $8 million of the total amount was ever recovered, making this the biggest robbery in the history of Brazil.
Brinks Mat Robbery
In the morning hours of Nov. 26, 1983, six men wearing balaclavas entered a warehouse at London’s Heathrow Airport belonging to security company Brink’s-Mat. The warehouse vault contained more than $3 million in cash, which the robbers knew because they had help from the inside. What they didn’t know was that the vault also contained more than three tons (7,000 bars) of gold bullion.
The armed men tied up the guards and poured gasoline on them, threatening to light a match if they didn’t offer up the keys and the codes to the vault. The thieves loaded the gold into a van and drove off, but they weren’t free for very long. The inside man, Anthony Black, was implicated fairly quickly and squealed on his comrades. Another not-so-smart robber, Micky McAvoy, reportedly used his cut to pay cash for a house and bought two security dogs, which he named Brinks and Mat, to guard the property. He and Black’s brother-in-law, Brian Robinson, were sentenced to 25 years in prison.
You bet, the police never recovered most of the gold.