On September 2, 2020, seven investigators from a special German police commission, three officers from the Berlin art crime squad and 100 riot police raided an internet cafe and a residential apartment while searching for a man they believed had sold a SIM card to thieves who had stolen $128 million worth of irreplaceable jewelry almost a year earlier in November 2019.
Two months later, 1,600 officers were mobilized for raids across Berlin. The manhunt was focused on five jewel heist suspects, but only three were apprehended. Interpol issued a red notice for the other two — twin brothers from the Remmo crime family of Berlin — who had evaded capture. The following month, Mohammed Remmo was discovered hiding in a car in a Berlin neighborhood on Remmo family turf. He was promptly arrested for his suspected involvement in the heist, while his brother, Abdul Majed Remmo, remained on the lam — until May 2021, when German authorities nabbed him, too.
In all, six men, ranging in ages from 22 to 28, would face charges related to the burglary of the Green Vault in Dresden’s Royal Palace — a robbery that had stunned the nation.
The Green Vault housed a 3,000-piece jewelry collection that, over the last few centuries, had survived numerous other threats. The jewels were originally collected by Augustus the Strong, an ambitious king of Saxony who would later rule over Poland in the early 18th century. During World War II, when the Allies obliterated Dresden with wave after wave of B-17 bombers, the Nazis evacuated the museum and took the jewels to Königstein Castle where they were sheltered from the bombs. When the Nazis lost and Soviet soldiers overran Berlin, the jewel collection was seized as a war prize and taken to the USSR. The jewels would somehow find their way back to East Germany in 1958, then still shrouded by the Iron Curtain. In 2006, 16 years after German reunification, the Green Vault was finally reopened in the original location of the museum, with the jewels back on display. The media speculation placed the value of the collection at $1 billion.
The revamped Royal Palace is a series of eight colored rooms, and each room progresses in theme “from amber to ivory to silver and, finally, to the Hall of Treasures,” which houses the largest collection of gems in all of Europe. That, of course, is where the Green Vault is located. Every inch of the Royal Palace is maximized to “reflect the abundance of the collection.” Picture gold-gilded framed paintings, heavy-glass cases displaying royal jewels and mirrored walls reflecting shimmering opulence from floor to ceiling.
For the heist team, all that abundance proved too tempting to ignore. They struck at 4:50 a.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019. According to police, the thieves set fire to a power distribution box near the Augustus Bridge, causing a power failure in the historic section of Dresden and knocking out street lights as well as the Royal Palace’s alarm system. Seven minutes later, they were inside the museum and making their way to the Green Vault. They entered the building via a window. Some time earlier — perhaps as much as a week — they had sawed through the window’s security bars. Then they placed the cut section back and secured it in place until they returned.
Security cameras tracked their progress through the eight colored rooms of the museum. The thieves brought out an ax to open the heavy glass display cases in the Jewelry Room. Nine swings later, the glass was smashed, and they grabbed what they could reach. In all, they stole 21 pieces, each of which was encrusted with precious gems, including more than 4,300 diamonds.
The Royal Palace’s security was on-duty at the time, and at least two guards watched the ax-wielding thieves as they worked. Instead of confronting them, however, the security guards called the police. Officers were able to respond within 10 minutes, but it was already too late. Thirteen minutes after the thieves were first captured on security cameras, they were three miles away, their getaway car already set ablaze. They parked its burned-out metal husk in an underground garage, left behind to be discovered by police with zero forensic evidence adorning it.
On their way out of the museum, the thieves had used a fire extinguisher to powder the carpet. Roy Ramm, a security consultant and a former commander of specialist operations at New Scotland Yard, explained the importance of this move to the press. “Foot marks are very often used to identify the footwear used by criminals,” he explained. “Fairly often, they’ll get rid of gloves and all sorts of other things but forget to get rid of their shoes. So, anything that disrupts the forensic trail is — I hesitate to say it — useful.”
Basically, then, all the cops had was the getaway car, telling the public that “the burglars fled the scene in an Audi A6” and asking eyewitnesses who may have spotted the vehicle in the early hours of that Monday morning to come forward. Meanwhile, State Police Chief Horst Kretzschmar and senior public prosecutor Klaus Rövekamp assured the German people that the authorities were taking important steps “to bring back the stolen pieces of the state treasury to citizens of the Free State and to all interested visitors of the Green Vault and to catch the perpetrators.”
Soon, the investigation turned toward the security guards at the Royal Palace — in particular, the two who “did not react adequately.” Why had they merely stood by and watched as the thieves stole the royal jewels? The museum administrators told police that the security staff had merely “followed safety protocols.” But questions persisted. Ramm joined the chorus of doubters, saying, “The only way that these things happen is if the robbers have got really good inside information. You’ve got to know that there aren’t, for example, laser beams across the room; you’ve got to know that there aren’t pressure sensitive tabs around the place. It’s extremely risky to do what they did.” Ramm did concede, however, “It’s conceivable that they’ve done extended research on the building.”
Eventually, four members of the security team fell under the eye of the state police investigation. Apartments were searched, but no evidence of the robbery or collusion were found.
And so, the police returned to the getaway car. From CCTV of the vehicle, investigators determined that it was actually an Audi S6, not an A6. By May 2020, they thought they had a good idea of the young man who had purchased the vehicle in the City of Magdeburg. The police provided a description and sketch of the suspected car buyer, stating that he was “around 25 years old, had dark hair and was slim in build.”
Then, nearly a year after the robbery, the massive police operation was launched in Berlin, focusing on the Remmo crime family and their holdings. Ralph Ghadban, an expert on organized crime in Germany, explained to the press how the Remmos operate. “The clan protects and helps its members. It can have many thousands of members and can dominate and terrorize entire quarters in the city,” he said. Much like Al Capone-style gangsters, Remmo leadership was well insulated and protected. Interestingly, the Remmo family was known for executing its crimes with a “forceful and quick” energy.
Needless to say, the raids greatly hamstrung them. Before 2020 was over, German police seized “77 properties worth a total of 9.3 million euros, charging that they were purchased with the proceeds of various crimes.” The raids also led investigators to their six suspects — again, a mix of brothers and cousins. Two of them have already been placed behind bars after they were convicted of stealing the “Big Maple Leaf,” a 100-kilo commemorative gold coin that was lifted from Berlin’s Bode Museum. It has never been recovered.
All of them are now on trial together for the Green Vault heist, a legal proceeding that’s expected to last until this October. Twin brothers Mohammed and Abdul Majed Remmo face up to 10 years in prison. Two of the other not previously convicted Remmo family members face 15-year sentences. And the Big Maple Leaf duo would have another 15 years tacked onto their existing sentences as well if they’re found guilty.
As for the royal jewels? The suspected robbers have refused to divulge their whereabouts. Police have offered a reward of $556,000 for information leading to the jewelry’s return, but Juergen Schmidt of the Dresden Prosecutor’s Office recently admitted, “So far, there is no hot lead.” To make matters worse, Schmidt explained that under German law, “even if convicted, the defendants cannot be forced to give any testimony in court on the whereabouts of the treasures.”
For now at least, the jewels are gone. And with every passing day, the chances grow greater that the Remmo family was able to accomplish what neither the Allied Powers nor Soviet Union ever could — take them from Germany forever.