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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 23:34 GMT
Diamond heist baffles police
Diamond cutters at work in Antwerp
Antwerp: At the centre of the diamond trade for 400 years
Belgian police are trying to unravel events behind a daring robbery in the diamond-cutting capital of the world.

Thieves cleared out 123 of the 160 vaults in the maximum security cellars at Antwerp's Diamond Centre at the weekend, but the raid was only discovered the next day.

The precise value of the stolen diamonds is not known, but Belgian media have speculated it could run to millions of dollars.

Diamond traders in the city have been shocked by the audacity of the robbery and fear it could be a blow to their industry.

Inside job?

The Diamond Centre building, located in the heart of Antwerp's historic diamond district, is closely guarded.

There are surveillance camers, entry codes, 24-hour security guards, and even cameras in the vaults.

But with no signs of a break-in, police suspect the thieves could have had inside help and have been questioning staff and owners of the safes at the centre.

Antwerp's Diamond High Council, which represents the gemstone traders, has admitted the robbery could have serious implications for an industry proud of its discretion and security.

"Diamond traders aren't saying it openly, but it's clear they think one of their colleagues was perhaps implicated in the plot," the council's spokesman, Youri Steverlynck, said.

The diamonds in the vaults belonged to about 70 individuals or organisations, the Antwerp prosecutor's office believes.

Diamonds are big business in Antwerp. Last years it handled about $26bn in traded diamonds, processing some 80% of the world's production of uncut gems.



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SEE ALSO:
Diamond market faces tough year
06 Feb 03 |  Business
'Blood diamond' scheme begins
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Timeline: Dome diamond heist
18 Feb 02 |  England


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