Armed robbers grabbed diamonds worth approximately US$50 million as it was about to be loaded into the cargo hold of a plane at the Brussels Airport Monday night. The theft occurred just before 10 p.m. Monday and involved a Helvetic Airways Fokker 11, which was about to operate a Swiss International Air Lines flight to Zurich.
Helvetic was performing the flight for Swiss under a wet-lease arrangement. The flight was due to leave Brussels at 20:05, but was subsequently cancelled. The incident occurred after the aircraft’s passenger doors had been closed. On board were 29 passengers and four crew members, none of whom was injured. All the passengers received on-the-spot care and assistance, and were re-booked to their desired destinations.
“Helvetic Airways and SWISS will now be taking every possible action, in cooperation with the authorities and specialists in the field, to ensure that the incident is fully and thoroughly investigated,” the airline said in a statement.
The robbery was “evidently aimed at valuables (diamonds amongst others) which had been due to be loaded into the aircraft’s cargo hold,” according to a statement released by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre.
“We find it hard to understand how a robbery such as yesterday’s heist could take place,” said Caroline De Wolf, spokesperson for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. “We are currently awaiting the results of the investigation but we do fear the damage for Antwerp, the world’s leading trade centre, is significant.”
“We choose to transport goods via airplane, precisely because of the safe and controlled nature of this means of transportation. We do hope additional security measures can be put in place in order to safeguard a fluent and safe transport of diamonds.”
De Wolf says the Antwerp diamond community is shocked by the “brutal heist” which included both rough and polished stones. Antwerp is the world’s prime diamond trading hub; eight in 10 of all rough and half of all polished diamonds are traded in Antwerp.
De Wolf says to date, Antwerp has been the most highly secured diamond centre in the entire, global industry, guaranteeing a safe business environment and safe transport of the vast stream of valuable goods to and from Antwerp.