In a surprise decision, a court in Brussels has acquitted 18 out of 19 men accused of taking part in the “robbery of the century” at Brussels airport for lack of evidence. The robbery took place in February 2013, when eight men broke through the perimeter of the airport via some construction works that were going on, and robbed a Swissair flight carrying diamonds, gold ingots and other precious stones from Antwerp to Zurich. The haul, which has never been fully recovered, was estimated at €37 million.
The men, armed and in police uniforms, were part of the bench of defendants, as were others who had been involved in the preparation of the robbery, as well as the disposal of the gems thereafter.
For those involved, the public prosecutor for Halle-Vilvoorde was asking for sentences of up to eight years. But defence lawyers argued there was insufficient evidence in the case to convict. The defence pointed to a wire-tapped conversation by one of the accused in which he appeared to be preparing a “major operation”. However while that case came to nothing, the prosecution nevertheless brought the wiretap as evidence in this case.
Other intercepted conversations were, according to the defence, wrongly interpreted by the police. The court in the end followed that reasoning.
The ruling essentially shuts down all further investigation of the biggest robbery in Belgium in years, according to the rule of double jeopardy, which forbids the prosecution of anyone for a crime for which they have previously been acquitted.
Of the accused, 18 were acquitted. One man received no judgement, which will follow later.