It was a cold, windy morning in November 2019 when the city of Dresden, in eastern Germany, woke up with a start.
Overnight, robbers stole a $100 million royal jewelry collection from the city’s historic Green Vault, a series of basement suites in a castle that’s now part of a museum.
The robbers left the floor of the vault was covered with shards of glass and coated with powder to confuse forensic investigators.
On Tuesday, in a high-security courtroom in Dresden, five men – all from the same notorious Berlin crime family – were found guilty and convicted of their roles in the robbery and escape. Jail time for Rabieh Remo, Wissam Remmo, Bashir Remmo and twins, who were tried under juvenile guidelines because they were only 20 at the time of the robbery and whose names are not disclosed under German privacy rules, ranges from 4 years to 4 months to 6 years and 3 months. The sixth defendant was acquitted because he had an alibi.
The men are part of a family dubbed the “Remmo Clan” by German tabloids, and its members have been charged with crimes such as social fraud, extortion and theft.
During the 15-month trial, the six defendants sometimes resembled the crew of “Ocean’s 11” and at other times “Mr. Boon.” But it wasn’t just the accused who sometimes seemed inept. The trial shed light on a German justice system that failed – to an almost comical degree – when it came to stopping determined criminals.
Despite a colorful history of crimes, the men were free to plan and execute their greatest heist. Most shockingly, two of the men on trial have previously been found guilty of stealing a giant gold coin worth $4 million from a Berlin museum. They were in court for that crime – but not in custody – when the crew carried out the Green Vault robbery.
But for all its faults, the epic trial that ended on Tuesday brought to light the extraordinary story of how a small group of dedicated perpetrators managed to break into one of Germany’s top-security museums and make off with the highest score in the country went. post-war history.
Almost a week before the robbery, one of the men broke into a service room for the city power supply at the foot of the Augustus Bridge in Dresden. The police investigated, but found no cause for concern.
Around the same time, the robbers cut a neat triangle out of an old metal grille that covered a corner window of the Green Vault treasure room. Selecting a window out of view of a nearby surveillance camera, they separated a piece of thick forged metal about five feet from the grille, then taped it back into place.
The tool used by the thieves – a pneumatic Jaws of Life used by rescue services to free people trapped in car wrecks – is not available on the open market. Three months earlier, Wissam Remmo had broken into a specialist tool factory and stolen the device.
The police arrested him, and just two days after the robbery in Dresden, he was on trial for burglary. The court had no idea how the tools had been used when they sentenced Remmo to two and a half years for the theft. A higher court later commuted his sentence.
A little before 5 a.m. on the last Monday of November 2019, a homemade incendiary bomb exploded in front of the electrical service room at Augustus Bridge. That crude device, a cooking pot filled with a diesel fuel mixture, knocked out streetlights in the immediate area.
Two hundred yards away, two men entered the Green Vault through the pre-cut hole in the grille and began violently hammering away chests containing the jewels. Police later testified that the perpetrators hit the glass display cases 56 times in just a few minutes.
Two private security guards watched the robbery unfold on a closed-circuit video feed, but could do little but call the police as strict rules prohibited the unarmed men from confronting the thieves themselves. (The guards were initially suspected of playing a part in the robbery, but were quickly cleared.)
Rabieh Remo, one of two men in the Green Vault that morning, later testified that he was surprised at how strong the nylon strings were that held the jewels in the cases. According to him, this was the biggest obstacle the thieves faced.
They made off with 21 lavish pieces from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that once belonged to local rulers, August the Strong and his son August III. The captured items included a ceremonial sword, brooches, pendants, headpieces, chains, buttons and two diamond-encrusted epaulettes. In total, the jewelery contains 4,300 diamonds and other precious stones.
After the group loaded the loot into an Audi station wagon with stolen license plates, they drove to a parking garage on a residential street several miles away. There they jumped into a Mercedes and set fire to the Audi. That fire spread to more than 60 cars in the garage, causing more than half a million euros in damage and endangering the life of a woman who was in the garage at the time.
A month later, the second getaway car went up in flames.
The investigation and the process
It took months for a special police task force called “Epaulet” to come up with solid leads, which emerged when officers used DNA found at the crime scene and linked the two burnt-out getaway cars to members of the Remmo family. Another major breakthrough came when police found and questioned a man who had been selling a batch of phone SIM cards used in the robbery.
About a year after the break-in, nearly 1,700 police officers raided apartments, garages, a café and several cars in a raid in Berlin and arrested three members of the crew. The others were arrested in the following months.
Their trial had been going on for almost a year when Rabieh Remo (who uses a different spelling of the family’s surname) recanted previous testimony and told the court that he had actually been in the safe during the robbery. His confession was part of a deal the defense negotiated with the court: return the jewels and confess to the crimes, in exchange for capped jail terms. Three others also admitted their part in the crime; one of the men was able to prove he was in the emergency room the night of the robbery, and another insisted to the end that he was not part of the robbery.
But the deal had some strange stipulations. Although the defendants agreed to confess to their own crimes, they had acquired the right not to charge accomplices whom the police had not yet caught. They were also given time with their lawyers to prepare responses to prosecutors’ questions.
While the men on trial admitted to breaking into the museum, they refused to admit key aspects of the crime — such as planning and leadership — blaming unknown accomplices instead.
But the plea deal had one big advantage: Most of the loot was returned. However, some important parts of the collection – including an important diamond, an elaborate brooch and an epaulette – are still missing and others are damaged or oxidized.
In addition to the prison sentence, the state is seeking nearly €89 million in damages for the missing treasure and for damage to the museum.
Members of the Remmo family originally came to West Berlin from Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.
They are just one of about a dozen family crime syndicates in Germany. But thanks to German tabloids and TV shows, the Remmos are unusually well known. Even though they are not the most successful, violent or prolific organized crime organizations in the country, until this trial they were seen as largely untouchable.
Mahmoud Jaraba, an academic who studies criminal families like the Remmos, said those networks were known for their loyalty and reluctance to deal with authorities — which is what made the plea deal in the Green Vault case so striking. However, he added that due to a code of silence, it was very difficult for outsiders to learn much about the real power structure within these families.
However, due to the provisions of the plea deal, the true story of who organized, coordinated and planned the robbery would never come to light.
However, one thing was clear to Jaraba: “I’m sure more people from within the family were involved.”