Gangster Viciously Implicates Antwerp Diamond DealersMarch 19, 09
In a scene that might have been taken out of a John Grisham mystery novel, Leonardo Notarbartolo, the mobster and mastermind behind the $100 million diamond heist-of-the-century from a vault beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center in 2003, has now made a “prison confession” alleging that he was the victim of a sting organized by a Jewish diamond dealer, who allegedly had a number of accomplices. The weird (and rather outrageous and unsubstantiated) history rewrite will appear in an enthralling (10-page, 7,700 words) story by Joshua Davis in the forthcoming issue of Wired magazine, and will be repeated in a movie to be produced by Paramount Pictures, which has acquired the story’s film rights.
The bottom line is a ludicrous attempt to transfer the “real guilt” of the heist from Sicilian mobsters to
The timing of the allegations is clear. Notarbartolo, arrested in February 2003 for the theft of diamonds gold, jewelry and valuables, is being released from prison in
Agim De Bruycker, the chief of
Sicilian-born Notarbartolo, who allegedly has family connections to the Italian mafia, considered the vault the safest place to keep valuables in
According to career criminal and self-confessed liar Notarbartolo, one of these buyers – a Jewish diamond dealer – approached him in
Training in a Mock-Up of the Vault
The suggestion is given that huge investments were made by the unnamed diamond dealer who supposedly ordered the heist. According to these new confessions, the diamond dealer initially paid $130,000 for Notarbartolo to 'scope" out the vault, assessing its potential for being invaded.
Months after Notarbartolo told the dealer that the heist was impossible, the Sicilian was asked to meet the dealer at an address outside
After months of planning, the team carried out the perfect robbery on a Saturday night in February 2003 – the heist wasn’t even discovered until guards checked the vault on Monday morning. Actually,
The thieves had so much loot to carry that they left the floor of the vault strewn with cash and safe contents in their efforts to remove as much as they could haul before the city began to spring to life on the Sunday morning.
The training in the mockup vault had been so intense that no lights were used during the heist itself – also to avoid the heat of light being detected. Therefore, it was only upon examining the valuables at their safe house, well after they had left the scene of the crime, that the thieves’ enthusiasm over the perfect job began to wane. When they opened satchel after satchel that they expected to contain handfuls of diamonds, they found nothing. Most of the bags they retrieved from 109 of some 189 safe-deposit boxes in the vault were empty. Notarbartolo had expected the value of the loot total to exceed $100 million, but says the thieves ‘only’ had about $20 million.
The Mobster was Conned?
Notarbartolo came to the realization that the heist he had spent so much time planning might have actually been part of an elaborate insurance scam. The diamond dealer who initiated the robbery may have tipped off a number of his fellow merchants, who removed their inventory — both legal and illegal - from the vault before the heist. Each of them could then claim that their legitimate gems were stolen and collect the insurance while secretly keeping all their stones. The gems could have easily been transferred from the vault to safes in their offices or homes. The $20 million worth of loot that the thieves had retrieved came from traders who were not involved in the scam, according to the insurance scam theory.
There is a very unpleasant secondary element to all of this. Denice Oliver, the adjuster who investigated the robbery for insurers, says that there were roughly $25 million in claims, all of which was documented by legitimate invoices. Detective De Bruycker, working on the basis that three quarters of the diamond business is carried out under the table, calculated that at least another $75 million in goods was stolen, bringing the total value of the heist to about $100 million.
Why, for Heaven’s sake, are the police assuming that the vaults held $75 million worth of so-called "illegal" (reference to "undeclared") goods? Is there any iota of evidence for that? Or it is just the standard operating assumption of the Belgian police that three out of every four dollars value in a vault must be "illegal" goods?
But let’s leave that issue for another day.
The Scheme that Doesn’t Make Sense
The author of the Wired magazine story apparently is also troubled by the sting or scam accusation. As the writer tells it, “on January 4, 2009, I see Notarbartolo for the last time. Over the past 14 weeks, we have met seven times in the prison visiting room, and yet questions remain. Was $100 million stolen as the police estimate, or just $20 million as Notarbartolo insists? Does it make sense that the heist was part of a larger insurance scam or is Notarbartolo's story a decoy to throw suspicion on others? Perhaps Notarbartolo's cousin, the Mafia don, was behind the whole thing. Whatever the truth, where is the loot now?” he asks.
The writer suggests that "if Notarbartolo's insurance scam theory is correct, it went down like this: The dealers who were in on it removed their goods — both legal and illegal — from the vault before the heist and then filed claims on the legitimate gems. The insurance expert Oliver calls this the ‘double whammy' — these dealers would have gotten the insurance payouts and kept their stock. The $20 million found by the thieves belonged to traders not in on the scam."
If there were no insurance claims, then the story is obviously a hoax – a tremendous lie, as well as a slander and slur on the
The actual size of the loss is never actually discussed. At a minimum, there were $25 million worth of insurance claims. Admittedly, not all goods may have been insured. But $100 million? That’s just the kind of amount on which novels are based and from which screenplays are written.
Regardless of which theory is correct, there is agreement that the thieves got away with millions that were never recovered. Notarbartolo refuses to talk about what happened to the goods, adding that it is something best discussed once he is out of prison. That’s now.
The industry is in a recession. He has chosen a bad moment to come out of prison and see whether he can cash in on the loot.
Joking aside, this is a worrisome story. And what is most troubling is why Wired magazine would enable a convicted and self-confessed thief to portray himself as a kind of petty thief who had been conned by some Antwerp diamond dealer. Have a nice weekend.