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31 detained in probe of $50M Belgium diamond heist

Prosecutor spokespersons Jean-Marc Meilleur, right, and Anja Bijnens address the media in Brussels, Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Police carried out a series of raids in Belgium and detained 31 people in three countries in connection with a spectacular $50 million diamond heist pulled off with apparent clockwork precision at Brussels Airport, a Belgian prosecutor said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Prosecutor spokespersons Jean-Marc Meilleur, right, and Anja Bijnens address the media in Brussels, Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Police carried out a series of raids in Belgium and detained 31 people in three countries in connection with a spectacular $50 million diamond heist pulled off with apparent clockwork precision at Brussels Airport, a Belgian prosecutor said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Unlike the brilliant thieves in Ocean’s Eleven, it appears that those behind the clockwork-precision, $50 million diamond heist at Brussels Airport may not get a Hollywood ending.

After three months of virtual silence on the matter, authorities struck this week, detaining at least 31 people in a three-nation sweep and recovering so many diamonds from the loot Antwerp traders lost that they are still figuring out the exact value.

Officials said that among the people held in Belgium, France and Switzerland on Tuesday and yesterday are some with violent criminal pasts; the one person held in France is believed to have been one of the robbers at the airport. The evidence seized includes large sums of cash, precious stones and luxury cars.

“It was a total surprise for us,” said Caroline De Wolf of the Antwerp World Diamond Center, whose traders lost millions in the Feb. 18 heist. “But we were delighted when we heard.”

Six to eight people were detained in Geneva, and 24 in and around Brussels. It was unclear exactly what roles each suspect may have played.

Some 250 police officers were involved in the dawn raid in the Belgian capital, and many of the two dozen suspects were being interrogated late yesterday. It could take at least another day before it’s clear how many will be placed under arrest, said Anja Bijnens, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

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