German court sentences five over spectacular museum heist
A German court on Tuesday sentenced five members of a criminal gang to up to six years in prison for snatching priceless 18th-century jewels from a Dresden museum in what local media have dubbed the biggest art heist in modern history.
The thieves made away with a haul worth more than 113 million euros ($123 million) from the Green Vault museum in November 2019. Some, but not all, of the loot was recovered after four of the defendants made confessions in court.
The thieves are members of the so-called “Remmo clan”, an extended family known for a web of ties to organised crime in Germany.
The regional court in the eastern city handed down three sentences ranging from just under to just over six years for armed robbery, aggravated arson and grievous bodily harm.
Two of the men, who were minors at the time of the crime, received juvenile sentences of five years, and four years and four months respectively.
A sixth defendant was acquitted because he produced a credible alibi — an emergency surgery at a Berlin hospital.
The trial, which began in January 2022, shed some light on the spectacular case but left key questions unanswered.
Although many of the historic pieces were recovered as part of a plea deal, some are feared lost forever in what prosecutors called an act of “remarkable criminal drive and recklessness” by the thieves.
The loot included a sword with a diamond-encrusted hilt and a shoulder piece which contained the famous 49-carat Dresden white diamond.
Prosecutor Christian Weber said on the opening day of the trial that the defendants had stolen “unique and irreplaceable treasures… of outstanding cultural and historical significance”.
Two of the defendants, Wissam and Mohamed Remmo, were already serving time for the daring 2017 theft of a massive gold coin from a Berlin museum.
In a statement read in court in January by their lawyer, they said the idea for the Dresden job was hatched after a younger acquaintance “came back from a field trip to the Green Vault… raving about the green diamonds on display there”.
– 40 suspects still wanted –
The court found that the defendants, aged between 24 and 29, slipped into the museum through previously damaged bars on a window, broke a display case with an axe and grabbed 21 pieces encrusted with 4,300 jewels in less than five minutes.
The thieves were able to escape in a getaway car that they later set ablaze in an underground car park.
For months after the crime, authorities thought the haul was lost for good, with detectives scouring Europe’s shadowy stolen goods markets for signs of the Saxon royal artefacts.
That was until December 2022, when authorities said they had recovered a “considerable portion” of the items following “exploratory talks” with the suspects.
However, many of the pieces were badly damaged and some are still missing, including a brooch that belonged to Queen Amalie Auguste of Saxony.
In January, four of the defendants confessed, leading to a deal for lighter sentences. A fifth said he stole tools to penetrate the building but denied allegations that he took part in the heist itself.
Defence lawyers had called for greater leniency for the defendants, citing their clients’ contribution to recovering much of the loot. But the thieves have been criticised for failing to identify their accomplices.
About 40 people are believed to have been involved in planning the heist and are still wanted.
The trial revealed grave security failings at the state institution. Its director, Marius Winzeler, has said he is “optimistic” that the remaining missing pieces will one day return to Dresden, given that they “cannot be legally sold”.
Founded by Augustus, Elector of Saxony, in 1723, the Green Vault is one of Europe’s oldest museums.
After the Royal Palace suffered severe damage in World War Two, the museum remained closed for decades before it was restored and reopened in 2006 as a major tourist draw.