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German court convicts five men for $100 million Dresden jewel heist

BERLIN — A court in the eastern German city of Dresden found five family members of a criminal gang guilty of a $108 million (100 million euro) jewelry heist Tuesday and sentenced them to more than four years in prison.

It was one of Europe’s most notorious and daring jewel heists when members of Berlin’s Remmo clan broke into the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) museum at Dresden’s Royal Palace in the early hours of Nov. 25, 2019, in a smash-and-grab operation that made off with some of Europe’s most valuable jewels.

The stolen pieces included a breast star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle, a jewel-encrusted sword and an ornate headpiece covered in 4,300 diamonds. Authorities fear some of the items will never be recovered.

Watch: The moment some of Europe’s most valuable jewels were stolen

The five men, all in their 20s, were sentenced Tuesday to between four and six years in prison. A Dresden regional court found them guilty of “particularly serious arson” in combination with dangerous bodily harm, theft with weapons, property damage and “intentional arson” to cover up a criminal offense. A sixth defendant and family member was acquitted after providing an alibi.

Thieves stole up to 100 pieces of 18th-century jewelry from the Green Vault museum at Dresden’s Royal Palace on Nov. 25. (Video: Saxony Police via Storyful)

In January, the defense, prosecution and the court reached a plea bargain after most of the jewels were returned in late 2022. Two of the five defendants are already serving sentences for the theft of an enormous gold coin from Berlin’s Bode Museum in 2017 — another daring heist that rocked the museum world. The coin was never recovered.

Closed-circuit TV footage released a day after the audacious heist showed how the museum and the neighboring area were plunged into darkness after the thieves set fire to a circuit breaker near the museum.

They then entered the building through a window. Prosecutors said the men had damaged the bars on the window ahead of the heist and reattached them to enable quicker access.

Within five minutes, they broke a display with an ax, took 21 objects covered in thousands of jewels and left in a getaway car. The vehicle was later set alight in an underground parking lot.

Dozens of people are still wanted in relation to the meticulously planned heist. Authorities say they believe about 40 people were involved.

Barbara Klepsch, regional culture minister of Saxony — the state of which Dresden is the capital — said Tuesday she was grateful that investigators had been able to secure a large part of the stolen jewelry.

“A part of the wound in our treasury has been closed again and the perpetrators were lawfully convicted,” she said.

The minister also said that security measures had been adjusted as a result of the heist, which shed light on shortcomings in security at one of Europe’s oldest museums.

The eastern state of Saxony has claimed damages amounting to almost 89 million euros for the stolen items, as well as for damage caused by the break-in.

The stolen jewels are part of a collection amassed by Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, in the 18th century. In 1723, Augustus opened Dresden’s Green Vault to display his treasure trove. Located in Dresden’s Royal Palace, the museum remained closed for decades after suffering extensive damage during World War II. It was restored and reopened in 2006.

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