Only four of 18 suspects in the case of the armed robbery of a Brinks transport at Brussels Airport in February 2013 are to stand trial for the €38 million heist, the prosecutor-general in Brussels has announced.
The robbery took place when two vehicles containing eight men gained access to the airport tarmac via some construction works, and held up a Brinks van loading packages onto the flight of the airline Swiss as it was preparing for take-off.
The robbers ordered the Brinks crew at gunpoint to hand over the plane’s cargo, which consisted of 121 packages, most containing diamonds being flown to Zurich. The haul was estimated to be worth €38 million. No shots were fired and no-one was hurt.
The whole operation took roughly 20 minutes. Passengers on the plane were unaware anything had taken place until they were told to disembark as the flight had been cancelled.
Three months later, 31 arrests were made in connection with the robbery. Some of the diamonds were recovered, and 19 people are charged – 16 men and three women. The lead suspect was one Marc Bertoldi, a luxury car dealer from the south of France, who gave himself away when he paid off a Swiss friend with a quantity of diamonds.
The friend was caught trying to sell the stones in Geneva, whereas the market for gems in Switzerland is Zurich. Police tapped his phone, and Bertoldi came out of hiding.
However when Belgium tried to bring the suspects to court, Bertoldi as serving a prison sentence in France, and could not be extradited.
In May 2018 a court ruled the evidence against 18 of the accused was insufficient and they were acquitted. Bertoldi, who had admitted receiving diamonds but denied stealing them, was sentenced, still in prison in France, to five years.
The prosecutor-general, who handles cases of organised crime, appealed the acquittals and requested additional time to carry out further investigations in Morocco.
The Morocco investigations were never carried out, the prosecutor now admits, and only four of the 18 suspects should now be prosecuted on the evidence available.
Meanwhile the civil parties to the case – including the owners of the diamonds and the airline – have until 19 October to decide if they want to follow the prosecutor-general’s advice, or carry on with the appeal against the acquittal of the other suspects.
Whichever way they decide will not conclude the matter. Also on 19 October the court will decide when – if at all – the appeal hearing will be heard. That is likely not to take place until sometime in 2022.