Smartly dressed armed robbers who staged a brazen daylight raid on an international art fair in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht yesterday are thought to have made off with a necklace allegedly worth a whopping €27million (£23million).
Startling video footage showed how the thieves, sporting flat caps akin to those worn by Tommy Shelby and co. in the hit historical crime drama ‘Peaky Blinders’, used a sledgehammer to smash their way into a jewellery display case before going on the run.
Dutch media said the display case targeted by the robbers contained diamond jewellery and other items from London jeweller Symbolic and Chase, who were exhibiting their wares at The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf).
Dramatic video showed the four suspects wearing flat caps, glasses and jackets threatening visitors with what appeared to be handguns during the heist, before running off.
A witness to the robbery told Dutch outlet NRC that the purportedly stolen necklace was valued at €27million by one of the exhibitors at the art fair.
Police said yesterday they had detained two Belgian suspects shortly after the heist, but declined to say whether they were connected to the case.
The Belgians’ lawyer insisted there had been a misunderstanding, and that his clients denied any involvement.
Police did not find any evidence of jewellery or weapons in their car, and the search for the perpetrators and stolen items continues.
The necklace in question does not appear on Symbolic and Chase’s collection website, and the fair’s spokesman could neither confirm nor deny that the piece had in fact been stolen.
The jeweller has been approached for comment.
A witness to the robbery told Dutch outlet NRC that the purportedly stolen necklace was valued at €27million by one of the exhibitors at the art fair
The necklace believed to have been stolen yesterday is pictured here in a still from an Instagram story
Video from the scene showed a man wearing a blazer and baseball cap using what appears to be a sledgehammer to smash the glass display case of a jeweller’s stand (left). The man is seen repeatedly hitting the display case as three other men, also dressed in blazers, stand guard around him – one of whom appears to be holding a gun (right)
The armed robbers smashed the display case of a jewellery stand at the fair on Tuesday
Dutch police officers stand guard at the entrance of The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht on Tuesday following the robbery
Video from the scene showed one of the smartly dressed men using a sledgehammer to smash the glass display case of the London jeweller’s stand.
The suspect is seen repeatedly hitting the armoured glass at least 12 times as burglar alarms wailed while three other men also dressed in blazers, flat caps and glasses stood guard around him.
One member of the public is seen running towards the men and picks up a vase full of flowers, seemingly with the intention of hurling it at the robbers.
But two of the men standing guard brandished what appeared to be guns, causing the brave member of the public to drop the vase and slowly back away.
The hammer-wielding suspect finally smashed through the glass, reaching in to pick up something before putting it into a bag.
The men then ran off past a bemused elderly man, who had sat nearby on a bench throughout the drama.
Members of the public were quickly evacuated from the fair following the robbery before it later reopened.
The prestigious fair is being held in a convention centre in Maastricht, where displays of costly art and jewellery draw buyers and collectors from around the world.
It is slated to run June 25-30.
One member of the public runs towards the men and picks up a vase of flowers and appears to be ready to throw it at the robbers (left). But one of the men standing guard rushes towards the man pointing what appears to be a gun at him. The member of the public quickly drops the vase and moves back away from the robbers. The four armed robbers are then seen running off (right)
Pictured: The smashed display case that was destroyed by the armed robbers
Visitors stand outside the Tefaf Maastricht international art and antiques fair after it was evacuated following the robbery on Tuesday
‘No one was injured and the robbers took possession of property,’ Limburg province police said in a statement.
Police closed off nearby roads and a major road tunnel to hunt for the suspects immediately afterwards, they said.
Four police cars stopped a grey car with a foreign registration number on the nearby A2 motorway and officers arrested two suspects.
‘The police investigation, which started immediately after the robbery, led to two arrests… The police investigation is continuing in full swing. The focus is on tracing the two other suspects.’
One visitor, Jos Stassen, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that he had gone to the exhibition on Tuesday to look at the art in peace.
‘Normally it is very quiet… serene. But now I suddenly heard a lot of noise and I turn around and suddenly saw those men,’ NOS quoted him as saying.
‘One started beating and the others kept people away, scared everyone. I also saw a weapon. It went very fast and it lasted a very short time but I’m still shaking a little bit.’
Another eyewitness said she had seen one person holding a gun and another a sledgehammer during the robbery.
Julie Bartholomeus, from Maastricht, told De Limburger: ‘I thought very quickly to leave. My mother was a little further away, so I picked her up and we ran to the first exit.’
Visitors stand outside the Tefaf Maastricht international art and antiques fair after it was evacuated following the armed robbery on Tuesday
Police at the Tefaf Maastricht international art and antiques fair after it was evacuated
Bystanders gather outside the Tefaf Art Fair in Maastricht on Tuesday following the robbery
Tefaf is one of the biggest art fairs in Europe and regularly draws tens of thousands of visitors.
‘The fair’s security teams worked quickly to disarm an offender and Dutch police were on site within minutes. Nobody was injured during the incident,’ a Tefaf spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The fair had ‘robust procedures in the event of a security breach’, it said.
‘These were precisely followed and all visitors, exhibitors and staff were safely evacuated. The fair has now reopened,’ it added.
The fair and the MECC conference centre where it is being held were ‘working with the authorities’ and would not comment further, it said.
The fair has been running for more than 30 years and was returning this year after a break due to the Covid pandemic.
Art detective Arthur Brand said he believes that the robbers could be from Eastern Europe.
He said: ‘The sheer courage to commit a robbery and attack display cases with a claw hammer on the crowded Tefaf, disguised with caps and moustaches, reminds me of an Eastern European method.
‘There are gangs in Eastern Europe that have specialised in this method.’
Tefaf features hundreds of works, including one 17th-century drawing by a Dutch Old Master on sale for one million euros.
It is not the first time the fair has been targeted by criminals.
A ring and a diamond necklace worth 860,000 euros (£741,000 at the time) belonging to a London jeweller were stolen at the exhibition in 2011.