France has handed over to Belgium the alleged brains behind the theft of diamonds from a Helvetic Airways plane in Brussels in 2013.
The man, who was extradited from France last week, will appear in front of a Belgian court on May 10 to answer for the theft of 38 million euros worth of diamonds. He has always contested being directly involved in the heist and claimed he had received part of the loot through a contact, most of which was still stashed in a secret location.
On February 18, 2013, eight masked assailants brandishing machine guns, offloaded 120 parcels of precious stones from a Zurich-bound Helvetic Airways plane at Brussels airport. They fled the scene with jewels valued at CHF46 million ($50 million at the time) without firing a shot. Dozens of people were detained three months later in an operation spanning three countries. Last year, a Belgian court acquitted 18 suspects for lack of evidence. The mastermind was not among them as France and Belgium could not agree on the terms of the prisoner's loan. His case had therefore been separated from the others.
A lucky find in Switzerland led to 30 searches to try and pin the theft on the ringleader. Diamonds worth about five million euros (CHF7 million) were discovered in the cellar of a villa in Champel, Geneva. The owner of the villa, a real estate developer close to the alleged mastermind, was sentenced in November 2016 in Geneva to two years' suspended imprisonment.
The Geneva Criminal Court had also imposed a 180-day suspended fine on a Geneva lawyer prosecuted for attempting to obstruct criminal proceedings. On the other hand, the court gave the benefit of doubt to two real estate investors who bought a diamond each from the defendant.