BERLIN (AP) — More than 1,500 police carried out a series of searches in Berlin and arrested three people in a massive operation connected to the spectacular theft of 18th-century jewels from a unique collection in Dresden last November, authorities said Tuesday.
The operation was coordinated by police and prosecutors in Dresden, investigating the Nov. 25, 2019, theft of a large diamond brooch, a diamond epaulette and other treasures from the Saxony city's Green Vault Museum.
A total of 1,638 police officers from Saxony, Berlin and several other states, as well as federal special police forces, searched a total of 18 places, including 10 apartments and also garages and vehicles.
Their target was “art treasures and possible evidence such as computer storage media, clothing and tools,” Dresden police and prosecutors said. The searches, focused on Berlin's Neukoelln district, did not immediately turn up any of the missing 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 told reporters.
Three people, identified only as German citizens, two aged 23 and one 26, were arrested on suspicion of organized robbery and arson.
Police issued photos of two others, wanted on the same charges, identifying them as Abdul Majed Remmo, 21, and Mohamed Remmo, 21.
The focus was reportedly on a known crime family, and Berlin's top security official, Andreas Geisel, said the raids should serve as a warning to organized crime.
“Nobody should believe that he set himself above the rules of the state,” Geisel said.
The Green Vault is one of the world’s oldest museums. It was established in 1723 and contains the treasury of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, comprising around 4,000 objects of gold, precious stones and other materials.
Shortly after the theft, authorities offered a 500,000-euro ($593,000) reward for information leading to the recovery of the jewels or the arrest of the thieves.
In March, prosecutors and police said they had determined that an Audi S6 used in the theft and later set alight in a Dresden garage was sold to an unidentified buyer in August.
They said they believe a young man who picked up the car from the seller in Magdeburg, another eastern German city, was connected to the break-in and released a sketch of a slim dark-haired man believed to be about 25 years old.
The car may have been repainted before the break-in, authorities said at the time, bolstering suspicions that the theft was planned well in advance.
Analyses by investigators, based in part on video footage, led them to conclude that at least seven people were involved.