Five Men Convicted in $100 Million Jewel Heist That Rocked Germany

The thieves who robbed Dresden’s Green Vault in 2019 are members of the Remmo crime family

Trial shot
Defendants sit next to their lawyers at the Higher Regional Court in Dresden on January 10, 2023. Jens Schlueter / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

Five men from the same crime family have been convicted for stealing over $100 million worth of jewels from the Green Vault, a museum in Dresden’s Royal Palace, four years ago. 

The trial lasted for 47 days and called hundreds of witnesses. Four of the defendants took plea deals that involved returning some of the stolen property, while one maintained his innocence until the end, reports the New York Times’ Christopher F. Schuetze. A sixth defendant proved with an alibi that he did not participate. 

Earlier this month, one of the men publicly apologized in court, saying that the heist was “a gigantic mistake” and swearing off crime after the trial, per the Guardian’s Philip Oltermann.

Green Vault inside
Visitors tour exhibits at the Green Vault Museum in 2006. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The thieves received sentences ranging from four years and four months to six years and three months for their roles in stealing cultural heirlooms and jewelry containing roughly 4,300 diamonds and other valuable stones.

The convictions are the culmination of a years-long saga that garnered international attention. As the Times writes, the trial provided new insights into “the extraordinary story of how a small group of committed perpetrators was able to break into one of the most secure museums in Germany and make off with the biggest score in the country’s postwar history.”

That story begins several months before the theft, when one of the men, Wissam Remmo, broke into a factory and stole a hydraulic tool known as the Jaws of Life. Just days after the heist, he was caught and stood trial for stealing the tool—but at that point, authorities didn’t connect the two crimes. 

In the early morning of November 25, 2019, the thieves entered the Green Vault through a hole they had carved beforehand. Guards watched the men hammer at the display cases that held the jewelry, but they weren’t authorized to take any actions beyond calling the police. The thieves escaped, destroying both cars used for the getaway to keep authorities off their tails. Just before the one-year anniversary of the heist, three of the men were arrested following a sweeping operation involving 1,700 police officers. Authorities detained the others soon after. 

Dresden's Royal Palace
Police barrier tape hanging in front of Dresden's Royal Palace, which houses the Green Vault Sebastian Kahnert / Picture Alliance via Getty Images

The Green Vault dates back to 1723, when Saxony’s ruler, Augustus the Strong, started work on a secure site to house his treasures. He was, as Encyclopedia Brittannica puts it, “a man of extravagant and luxurious tastes,” and these proclivities helped transform Dresden into a cultural center. The vault’s eight rooms survived for many years. (While its treasures were moved for safekeeping during World War II, bombings destroyed several of the Green Vault’s rooms.)

“The Dresden theft has to be seen in the context of German history, in which, until 1919, the different regions had their own rulers whose story and past glories are still part of local consciousness and pride,” wrote the Art Newspaper’s Anna Somers Cocks in 2019. “A Bavarian, for example, feels quite distinct from a Saxon, and the Green Vaults are very much part of Saxony’s identity.”

In December, the Observer reported that German officials had recovered a “considerable portion” of the treasure. But several of the most expensive and notable pieces of the hoard—including a particularly valuable diamond called the “Saxon white”—are still missing. The unknown fate of these items dampened the otherwise celebratory reactions to the news in Germany. 

The missing items may not be the only remaining mysteries in this case. Mahmoud Jaraba, a researcher who studies criminal families, tells the Times that understanding the power structure inside such groups is difficult. 

“I’m sure,” he says, “there were more people from inside the family involved.”

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