GREEN VAULT HEIST: GERMAN PROSECUTORS CHARGE SIX SUSPECTS IN THE 2019 HEIST
A REPORTAGE BY KYLE RODERICK
After a nearly two-year investigation and intense manhunt that involved over a thousand police officers, German prosecutors have charged six men with organized robbery and arson over the spectacular theft of 18th-century jewels from Dresden’s Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) museum in 2019. The November 25, 2019 heist targeted the Dresden Palace’s jewellery treasure house, the Green Vault. So named for its malachite green-painted walls, this caper involves historically significant diamond jewellery and objets d’art commissioned and/or acquired by 18th century ruler Augustus the Strong and other Saxon royals. The treasures are so valuable that they were never insured. The priceless items stolen from the Green Vault have yet to surface. Authorities fear that they were broken up after the robbery and will thus never be recovered.
Those charged include 21-year-old Mohammed Remmo, a member of the notorious Remmo crime family network that is based in Berlin. Police say other suspects are affiliated with the Remmos, some of whom made headlines in 2019. (In that year, cousins Wissam and Ahmed Remmo were sentenced to four and half years in prison for stealing a 221 pound, commemorative solid gold coin estimated to have been worth $4.3 million from Berlin’s Bode Museum.)
The purloined Green Vault pieces include the cushion-cut 49.84-carat Saxon White (a.k.a. Dresden White) Diamond, which crowns the top of a diamond epaulette garniture created in 1782 by master jeweler Christian August Globig. The Polish Order of the White Eagle, a massive ceremonial brooch encrusted with diamonds and rubies, also disappeared in the robbery. As the White Eagle is Poland's highest honor, Saxon kings bestowed it upon a mere eight diplomats and political allies for their meritorious actions.
Over the years, the White Eagle’s design has inspired many pieces of fine and costume jewellery, including those by prestigious 20th century jewelers such as Fulco di Verdura. Also taken from the Green Vault was a hat clasp set with a 16-carat diamond plus 14 other large stones, along with 103 smaller diamonds. While the thieves absconded with a diamond-studded sword hilt containing nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, plus its matching scabbard, one of the museum's best-known treasures, the 41-carat Dresden Green Diamond, happened to be out of the country on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art during the time of the break-in.
On the evening of November. 25, 2019, the thieves are believed to have set a fire which destroyed the museum’s electrical power distributor and deactivated the building’s security alarm system. This fire also made streetlights in the vicinity go dark. Once in the building, one of the robbers broke into a display case with an axe, while another used various tools to gain access to another cabinet. A police inspection of the museum after the robbery revealed that numerous jewels within the three diamond jewelry sets initially reported stolen were in fact left behind in their display cases. Seven other sets that make up the Green Vault collection were also left undisturbed.
CCTV footage shows two suspects approaching the museum. The intruders entered the building after removing a metal grille and breaking a small window. Once inside, the thieves smashed through a display case that contained about 100 objects. According to investigators, the two security guards on duty failed to “react adequately” to the security breach by doing nothing to prevent the theft.
The thieves sped off in an Audi, its red tail lights glowing in the dark like rubies in the Polish Order of the White Eagle. Police say that the 2006 Audi S6 getaway car was purchased by an unknown adult male in August 2019 from a private seller in Magdeburg. The buyer is reported to have been in his mid-20s and a police sketch has been released to the public of this man. (The investigators are assuming that he is connected to the Green Vault theft.) The getaway vehicle was discovered in an underground parking lot near the Dresden Palace, having been set on fire.
News of the heist shocked Saxons and jewelle-ry lovers alike due to the museum's historically important collections and their dramatic history. After World War I, pieces from the Green Vault were first put on public display. They remained on exhibition until the beginning of World War II, when they were hidden from potentially thieving armies. At the height of the war in 1942, the Green Vault treasures were transferred to the Königstein Fortress. In 1945, the Soviet Trophies Commission carried off the Green Vault contents to Moscow, but retmnmnkmn hem in 1958. The contents were then placed on display in the Dresden Palace.
The 2019 robbery triggered an outcry in Saxony because the Dresden Palace and its Green Vault are beloved repositories of the region’s collective cultural identity. (The Green Vault collection was founded by Augustus the Strong. As an Elector of Saxony, Augustus was a German prince entitled to take part in the election of the emperor; he eventually became King of Poland.) According to Saxony's art minister, Eva-Maria Stange, “These stolen treasures are the crown jewels of Saxon kings. They belong to Saxony."
In the wake of the theft, Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer exclaimed to various news outlets, "Not only the state art collections were robbed, but we Saxons!" Alluding to the cultural significance of the irreplaceable diamond jewels and other royal treasures held in the museum, Kretschmer noted that the history of Saxony “cannot be understood without the Green Vault.” In various interviews, Saxony Interior Minister Roland Wöller claimed, it's a "bitter day" in the German state's history, adding that the criminals had made off with "treasures of unimaginable value."
Because the jewels taken from the Dresden Green Vault are incalculably precious, the head of the Dresden state museums, Marion Ackermann, warned that destroying the artworks would be “a terrible idea. We are talking here about items of inestimable art historical and cultural-historical value," she said. While Ms. Ackermann told reporters in 2019 she was "shocked by the brutality of the break-in,” she also expressed relief that because so many jewels were well-secured in their Green Vault cases, the criminals were prevented from taking other precious items.
Kyle Roderick is the author of Bejeweled: The World of Ethical Jewelry, an online jewellery trunk show host & Forbes magazine jewellery journalist.
Follow Kyle on Instagram @bijouxreview