Dresden heist verdicts due: Historic jewels’ fate hangs in balance

Image courtesy of Bangkok Post

A German court is set to announce verdicts for six members of a criminal gang accused of stealing priceless 18th-century jewels from Dresden’s Green Vault museum in a heist dubbed the biggest in modern history by German media. The theft, which occurred in November 2019, saw the criminals make off with artefacts worth over US$123 million.

The trial, which began in January 2022, has revealed details about the daring nighttime raid, with three defendants confessing to their involvement. Although a significant portion of the stolen items has been recovered, some historic pieces may be lost forever due to the thieves’ “remarkable criminal drive and recklessness,” according to prosecutors.

Among the stolen items were a sword with a diamond-encrusted hilt and a shoulder piece containing the famous 49-carat Dresden white diamond. Prosecutor Christian Weber stated that the defendants had stolen “unique and irreplaceable treasures… of outstanding cultural and historical significance.”

The accused individuals are members of the “Remmo clan,” an extended family with connections to organised crime in Germany. Two of the accused, Wissam and Mohamed Remmo, were already serving time for the 2017 theft of a massive gold coin from a Berlin museum.

The defendants, aged between 24 and 29, allegedly entered the museum through a window with damaged bars, broke a display case with an axe, and took 21 pieces encrusted with 4,300 jewels in under five minutes. They later escaped in a getaway car that was set on fire in a parking garage.

Although a “considerable portion” of the stolen items was recovered in December 2022, many items were severely damaged, and some pieces are still missing. Police divers searched a Berlin canal for the lost artefacts, but only discovered tools likely used in the break-in.

In January, four defendants confessed, leading to a deal for lighter sentences. A fifth admitted stealing tools to enter the building but denied participating in the heist. Prosecutors are seeking prison sentences of up to six years and eight months for three of the accused and juvenile sentences of up to six years for two others who were minors at the time. A sixth defendant is expected to be acquitted due to a credible alibi.

Defence attorneys have called for greater leniency for the other five defendants, citing their clients’ contribution to recovering much of the stolen property. However, they have faced criticism for not identifying their accomplices. Approximately 40 people believed to have been involved in the heist remain at large.

The trial has exposed significant security failings at the state institution. Marius Winzeler, the museum’s director, remains “optimistic” that the missing pieces will eventually be returned to Dresden, as they “cannot be legally sold.”

The Green Vault, founded by Augustus, Elector of Saxony, in 1723, is one of Europe’s oldest museums. It was closed for decades after the Royal Palace suffered severe damage in World War Two before being restored and reopened in 2006 as a major tourist attraction, reports Bangkok Post.

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!