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German Police Release Footage of a High-Profile Museum Heist; Officials Say the Jewels Were Uninsured

The video shows two men breaking into the Green Vault at Dresden’s Royal Palace with an axe, stealing a trove of 18th-century jewelry.

A collage of some the stolen jewels (courtesy of Saxony police)

German police have released a surveillance camera footage of the dramatic heist in Dresden’s Royal Palace on Monday, November 25, in which thieves stole a trove of 18th-century jewelry estimated by up to a €1 billion (~$1.1 billion), according to reporting by the German newspaper Bild. Meanwhile, the police remain clueless about the robbers, art experts expressed concerns the jewels will be destroyed, and authorities in Dresden revealed the precious artifacts were uninsured.

The robbers raided the gallery after setting off a fire at an electrical panel near the museum on early Monday morning, deactivating its alarm and street lighting nearby. However, one surveillance camera kept working and it captured the two during the heist. “The whole act lasted only a few minutes,” Dresden police said in a statement.

The video footage shows two men breaking into the Royal Palace’s Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe), with one of them using an axe to smash a display case.

The suspects have not yet been captured. Their getaway car was found on fire in another part of the city later in the day, police said. “We do not have a hot lead yet,” said a spokesperson with the Saxony police.

Marion Ackermann, director-general of the Dresden State Art Collections, said on Monday that the jewels were not insured, explaining that this is standard practice in such cases. The state finance ministry added yesterday that the high premiums for such expensive items typically exceed potential damages in the long-term.

Meanwhile, officials in Germany and said they fear that the jewelry pieces — which include a diamond-encrusted dagger, pearl necklace, among dozens of other glittering artifacts — will be broken up so that their gemstones can be removed for sale. “There is a very great danger that the individual elements will be disassembled, the diamonds and other gems removed and possibly ground, so they are unrecognizable as old pieces and resold,” said Herrmann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

“If they broke them down, they would be able to sell individual diamonds for a price,” Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the  Art Loss Register, the world’s largest private database of stolen art, told NBC News in an interview. “Because these are 18th century cut, they are not common for current use,” he continued. “There is a danger they might try to re-cut them.”

“This is a bitter day for the cultural heritage of Saxony,” Saxony’s interior minister, Roland Wöller, said on Monday. “The thieves stole cultural treasures of immeasurable worth — that is not only the material worth but also the intangible worth to the state of Saxony, which is impossible to estimate.”

Update 12/2/19 12:16pm EST: Police in Dresden is offering a €500,000 (~$550,000) reward for information about the heist in Dresden’s Royal Palace last week, in which thieves stole a trove of 18th-century jewelry with an estimated worth up to €1 billion (~$1.1 billion). 

The prize will go to anyone providing information which could lead to the capture of the thieves or the recovery of the stolen items, according to reports in the German media.

“We will stop at nothing to solve this case,” said the president of Saxony police, Horst Kretzschmar, and chief prosecutor, Klaus Roevekamp, in a joint statement on November 28. “By offering a reward of half a million euros for clues that lead to catching the perpetrators who broke into the Green Vault in Dresden on Monday, the investigators … are taking a further important step in bringing back the stolen items and catching those responsible.”

Surveillance footage released last week shows two men breaking into the Royal Palace’s “Green Vault” with an axe, but authorities say that more people might be involved in the heist. The thieves, who left behind no traces except for a burned Audi car, are still on the loose.

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