Jewel thieves in €1.2 billion audacious heist at German museum

Priceless jewellery collection stolen from one of the world's oldest museums

A caution take close the road in front of the Residenzschloss, Residence Palace, building with the Green Vault in Dresden Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Authorities in Germany say thieves have carried out a brazen heist at Dresden’s Green Vault, one of the world’s oldest museum containing priceless treasures from around the world. (Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP)

Diamonds and jewels worth up to €1.2 billion have been stolen from one of Germany’s most famous museums on Monday morning in a lightning raid.

Thieves broke into Dresden's Green Vault Museum (Gruenes Gewoelbe) and smashed display cases to grab the priceless jewels - one of Europe’s greatest collections of treasures.

It is believed the gang cut electricity to the venue before forcing their way in to steal at least three sets of early 18th century jewellery, including diamonds and rubies.

Security camera footage showed two men breaking in through a grilled window.

Despite the alarm sounding just before 5am local time, by the time officers arrived five minutes later the burglars had already escaped.

"We are talking here of objects of immeasurable cultural value," museum director Dirk Syndram said.

"It would be impossible to sell such unique, identifiable items on the open market", said Marion Ackermann, director of museums in the surrounding state of Saxony.

"It would be a terrible thing," she said when asked whether the jewellery might be broken up or melted down. Its cultural value far outstripped any material value, she added.

The haul was worth up to as much as €1bn and was housed in the treasure house in the former royal palace of the House of Wettin.

Dresden's prime minister Michael Kretschmer said: "The works in the Green Vault and the Palace were built up by the people of Saxony with many centuries of hard work."

A nearby electricity junction box had been set on fire, cutting the power supply to the whole area before the heist.

Police are also investigating whether a burned-out car was linked to the raid.

"Two suspects can be seen on the recordings, but that doesn't mean there weren't other accomplices," said Volker Lange of Dresden's police force.

The collection was founded in the 18th century by Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland.

One of its best known treasures is the 41-carat Dresden "Green Diamond" which was away on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time of the heist.

Other exhibits in Dresden include a table-sized sculpture of an Indian royal court, made out of gold, silver, enamel, precious stones and pearls.

Another is a 1701 golden coffee service by court jeweller Johann Melchior Dinglinger, decorated with lounging cherubs.

The treasures of the Green Vault survived Allied bombing raids in the Second World War but were then later taken by the Soviet Union.

They were returned to Dresden, the historic capital of the state of Saxony, in 1958.