German police swoop on suspects in notorious museum heist

Three suspects in one of Germany’s most audacious museum heists — the theft of dozens of pieces of 18th-century jewellery from the Saxon royal collection — have been arrested in dawn raids involving hundreds of police in Berlin.

The thieves broke into the historic Green Vault in the German city of Dresden last November, cutting through iron bars, smashing through a window and breaking into display cabinets in the Baroque-era jewellery room, which houses hundreds of pieces set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

More than 1,600 police were deployed in Tuesday’s operation, in which 18 properties were raided. Three people were arrested and police are hunting two others.

Thomas Geithner, a spokesman for the Dresden police, which led the raid, told journalists officers had searched the properties and hoped to find clues about the whereabouts of the stolen jewellery.

“One would have to have a lot of luck to find something a year after the crime,” Mr Geithner said. “But hope dies last.”

The Green Vault houses one of the most famous and extravagant royal collections in Europe, with more than 3,000 pieces on display. It was assembled during the reign of August the Strong, the ruler of Saxony from 1694 to 1733.

Local media identified the heist suspects as part of Berlin’s Remmo clan, some of whom were jailed earlier this year over the 2017 theft of a 100kg Canadian gold coin known as the “Big Maple Leaf”, which had been on display in the German capital’s Bode Museum.

The coin was never found and police said they suspected it had been cut into pieces. It had an estimated value of €3.75m.

Part of the collection in Dresden’s Green Vault. Jewellery stolen in last November’s heist was said to be of incalculable cultural value © Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/AP
A police officer removes evidence from one of the Berlin properties raided in the hunt for the Green Vault thieves © Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

The stolen Green Vault jewels are said to be so rare and precious that Dirk Syndram, the Green Vault’s director, described them as having “incalculable cultural value”.

Crime clans operate in several big German cities. Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s state interior minister, said Tuesday’s raids were a “signal to the scene”.

“Nobody should believe they can ignore the state and its rules,” he said. 

Germany’s art world has been the target of several high-profile crimes in recent years. In addition to the robberies at the Bode and Green Vault, vandals sprayed an oily liquid over 70 artefacts at Berlin’s Museum Island complex.

There has been widespread speculation in Germany that the attack was perpetrated by supporters of far-right conspiracy theorist Attila Hildmann, a celebrity chef who has claimed that Berlin’s Pergamon Museum was home to the “Throne of Satan”.