May 8, 2013 / 7:13 PM / 6 years ago

Police arrest 17 over $50 mln Brussels diamond heist

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Police have detained 17 people over the heist of $50 million in diamonds in February - one of the biggest jewellery robberies in history - after coordinated raids in Belgium, France and Switzerland, Belgian prosecutors said on Wednesday.

General view of the Zaventem's international airport near Brussels February 20, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Vidal/Files

More than 300 police were involved in the Belgian operations near Brussels which led to 10 people being detained, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor said. One suspect was held in France and the rest in Switzerland.

Heavily armed and dressed as police, the robbers stole 120 parcels of diamonds from the runway of Brussels airport without firing a shot. The suspect detained in France was believed to be a member of the gang of eight who carried out the heist.

“It’s the only person that we can say at this stage that could have participated in the events on the tarmac,” said Jean-Marc Meilleur, the prosecutor’s spokesman.

“As for the others, we still need to investigate to find out whether they are intermediaries or if they are people who participated directly.”

Belgian authorities have asked for the French suspect to be extradited.

Initially 24 people were rounded up in the Belgian raids, all aged between 30 and 35 years old, and late on Wednesday a Brussels judge decided to keep 10 of them in custody, the prosecution spokesman said.

Under Belgian law, a judge must decide within 24 hours whether to release a person.

Police in Geneva said they had questioned eight people after raids there and had subsequently released six of them, leaving two under investigation. Those figures differed slightly from the details provided by Belgian authorities.

Among those seized in Geneva were a businessman and a lawyer, while around 100,000 Swiss Francs in cash and a number of diamonds were recovered, the police there said. In Belgium, the raids recovered cash and luxury cars, the prosecutor’s spokesman said. (Reporting by Ben Deighton in Brussels and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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