It’s been nearly a year since Germany woke up to the shocking news that a billion dollars worth of jewels had been stolen from one of Europe’s most prized collections of historic treasures. Now, following a successful pre-dawn raid in Berlin, the daring thieves may soon face justice.
German police said Tuesday that three men have been arrested and two more are being hunted in connection with what was described as the biggest art heist since World War II. The crime, which made headlines around the world last November, saw ax-wielding thieves force entry into Green Vault in Dresden, housed in the former royal palace the Residenzschloss.
Surveillance video released by German authorities at the time showed the intruders using axes to smash glass display cases to make off with over a dozen priceless artifacts made of gold, diamonds, and other precious stones. The thieves—who are believed to have escaped the scene in an Audi A6—are said to have started a fire that led to a power failure at the palace, disarming the elaborate network of security alarms.
For a year, there was no sign of the thieves or the famous jewels—until Tuesday morning, when hundreds of police officers and special forces from across Germany descended on a Berlin neighborhood and made three arrests. Over 1,600 police officers searched a total of 18 places, according to reports, including 10 apartments as well as garages and vehicles.
“The measures today are focused on the search for the stolen art treasures and possible evidence, such as storage media, clothing, and tools,” the Dresden police and prosecutors said in a joint statement. The arrested men are accused of “serious gang robbery and two counts of arson,” according to the statement, and are set to appear before a judge later on Tuesday.
Dresden officials only identified the three men as German citizens between the ages of 23 and 26. Two other suspects, Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohamed Remmo, both 21, are wanted on the same charges.
The raids did not result in the recovery of any of the treasures. “We’d have to have a lot of luck in order to find them a year after the crime,” Dresden police spokesman Thomas Geithner reportedly told German media, adding, “But hope dies last.”
Given the unique nature of the missing pieces, it’s unlikely they could have been sold. At the time, experts said they feared the artworks would be broken down and their precious stones sold individually, making it impossible for the collection ever to be brought together again.
Michael Kretschmer, the leader of Saxony—which has Dresden as its capital city—expressed his devastation at the loss last year, saying, “You cannot understand the history of our country or the free state of Saxony without the Green Vault and the state art collections of Saxony.”