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Belgium Hunting Suspect in $28 Million Diamond Theft


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Belgium Hunting Suspect in $28 Million Diamond Theft (Update2)
By John Martens and Joram Kanner

March 12 (Bloomberg) – Belgian police were searching for a
middle-aged man suspected of stealing $28 million of diamonds from
an ABN Amro Holding NV bank vault in Antwerp, and are investigating
whether he had inside help.

The city prosecutor’s office said a 2 million-euro ($2.64 million)
reward was being offered for the apprehension of the suspect in the
March 5 theft. Prosecutors said the suspect spoke with an American
accent and used an Argentine passport which was stolen in Israel a
few years ago.

‘‘A very large batch of uncut and cut diamonds, totaling 120,000
carats, was seized,’’ the Antwerp prosecutor’s office said in an
e-mailed statement today. ‘‘The total value is estimated at $28
million.’’

The diamond theft is the second-largest on record in Antwerp, the
heart of Belgium’s $29 billion diamond industry. Four years ago,
thieves looted 123 vaults at the Antwerp Diamond Center and seized
more than 100 million euros ($132 million) worth of diamonds.

Brigitte Seegers, an ABN Amro spokeswoman in Amsterdam, confirmed
the prosecutor’s report about the theft and declined further comment
when contacted by Bloomberg News. ABN Amro is the largest Dutch
bank.

‘‘The stolen diamonds were owned by eight Antwerp-based diamond
trading companies and given as a pledge to bank loans,’’ said Philip
Claes, a spokesman of the trade group Antwerp World Diamond Center,
by phone. He declined to identify those companies.

Suspect Details

The main suspect in the March 5 theft is a regular client of the ABN
Amro branch in Antwerp, and was the last person to visit the vault
room on March 2 and the first to enter on March 5, according to the
prosecutor’s statement. The suspect used a false identity in his
contacts with the bank, where people knew him as Argentinian Carlos
Hector Flomenbaum, the prosecutor’s statement said.

The prosecutor’s office said it’s searching for a tall man, between
55-years old and 60-years old, who speaks English with an American
accent and has white and gray hair.

‘‘A reward of 2 million euros has been offered for information
leading to the prosecution’’ of the thief or thieves, Dominique
Reyniers, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, said in a
telephone interview. She declined to say who offered the reward.

‘‘Among the diamonds stolen was a 133 carat uncut diamond, which
would be very difficult to sell in the market,’’ said Claes, adding
that identifying the gems would be sent to all diamond
trading centers in the world.

The batch also included 41 blue-colored so-called brilliants and two
naturally green-colored, pear-shaped gems, according to Claes.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Martens in Brussels at
jmartens1@bloomberg.net

Source: bloomberg.com