Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History
The true story of the Antwerp Diamond Heist & Leonardo Notarbartolo
The Antwerp Diamond Center was one of the most secure buildings in the world. With hundreds of millions of dollars worth of diamonds stored in its subterranean vault, it had to be. Located in the heart of Belgium’s ultra-secure Antwerp Diamond District, it benefited from two police stations, armed patrols, extensive video surveillance, and vehicle barriers securing an area where 80 percent of the world’s diamonds traded hands.
But on February 15, 2003, a band of skilled Italian thieves — fronted by the charming Leonardo Notarbartolo, who spent over two years clandestinely casing the building — subverted every one of the Diamond Center's defenses and made off with a record amount of loot. Experts estimate they got away with nearly half a billion dollars in diamonds, jewelry, cash, and other valuables. They'd pulled off the biggest heist in history ("The Antwerp Diamond Heist")--as the saying goes, "everybody loves diamonds" and they now had more than any thief before them.
The robbers did it with stealth and smarts; no one was hurt or even threatened during what was quickly labeled the largest diamond heist in history. The bandits — members of a group of professional thieves known as "The School of Turin" — used cunning in lieu of violence, successfully evading security cameras, thwarting an array of electronic sensors, and penetrating a vault protected by a double-locked foot-thick steel door.
Even when the police zeroed in on who committed the crime, how it was done remained a mystery, like something out of a heist movie or TV show.
Flawless is a fast-paced global scavenger hunt uncovering the truth behind Leonardo Notarbartolo and the Antwerp Diamond robbery. Tracking clues, sources, and documents throughout Europe — from seedy cafés in Turin, Italy to sleek diamond offices in Antwerp, Belgium — authors Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell retrace Leonardo Notarbartolo’s careful discovery of the building’s security flaws. They recreate this jewel heist and its aftermath — detailing how the thieves brilliantly neutralized each element of the security protecting the Diamond Center’s vault while inviting the readers into the secretive world of diamonds and diamond dealing.
The result is a thrilling ride through the better-than-fiction heist of the century.
The white-tiled floor of the vault was littered with diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies, gold, and silver. Empty velvet-lined jewelry cases, cardboard cigar boxes, and tin-clasped metal containers lay amid sparkling gemstones of every imaginable cut, color, clarity, and carat. There were ancient heirlooms, gilded bond notes, a Rolex watch, and a brick of solid gold heavy enough to stub toes. Loose stones rolled and bounced like marbles as the detectives picked through the debris, their low gasps and whistles of amazement echoing softly in the bright underground chamber. Detective Patrick Peys thought that if he were to shovel it all up, pour it into any one of the empty and discarded containers scattered about, he would have enough wealth to finance a decadent retirement not only for himself but also for the five other detectives in his unit of specialized diamond-crime investigators.
Like everyone else who descended to the bottom floor of the Antwerp Diamond Center that day — Monday, February 17, 2003 — Peys needed some time to process the enormity of what he saw. He was no stranger to audacious crimes committed — or at least attempted — in Antwerp’s high-security Diamond District, but he’d never seen anything like this.
By almost any measure, the safe room two floors underground was as impenetrable a fortress as any to be found in the tightly protected Diamond District. Its walls of brushed-metal safe deposit boxes, which stood pillaged of an amount of treasure yet to be calculated, were inside a room equipped with a light sensor, a motion detector, and an infrared heat detector. Each of the safe deposit boxes had been locked with a key and a three-letter combination known only to its owner, yet more than half of them now stood open and empty. The room itself was secured with a foot-thick, double-locked, bombproof steel door armed with a magnetic alarm, as well as a locked, gated inner door that could only be opened with a buzzer from the control booth on the main floor. Both of those doors stood wide open that morning, undamaged.
These physical barriers were only the capstone of the vault’s security. Over the weekend, when the crime occurred, the building had been sealed with heavy, rolling metal barriers that covered locked plate glass doors at the main entrance and heavy mechanical vehicle arms at the garage entrance. Closed-circuit television cameras monitored the building’s entrances, corridors, and elevators as well as the antechamber to the vault, the small foyer that the elevators opened into. The building itself was situated in the heart of one of the most secure square miles on Earth, within what insurance investigators called the Secure Antwerp Diamond Area, a three-block canyon of gray glass-and-concrete buildings as well defended against thieves as Fort Knox. The district was protected with retractable vehicle barriers at either end to prevent cars from entering — or leaving — and was blanketed from every possible angle by a multitude of video cameras. Those cameras were monitored around the clock by a dedicated, heavily armed police force whose sole job was to prevent theft. In fact, there was a police security booth only forty yards from the Diamond Center’s front entrance and, in the other direction, a full-service police station just around the corner.
In the Diamond Center’s main corridor two stories above the vault, panic gripped tenants who enumerated the contents of their safe deposit boxes to police officers and insurance investigators. One dealer lost a million dollars in cash alone. A woman who had inherited her husband’s box and its contents upon his death found herself suddenly destitute; the large gemstones and irreplaceable heirlooms left to her by her husband were meant to finance her remaining years, and now they were gone.
Peys looked down at the piles of wealth and debris scattered across the floor. What was rolling under his feet — those gems and jewels, those scattered and discarded riches, the individual treasures of the building’s tenants who had stored them in the vault under the reasonable assumption that they would be safer here than in any bank — were the items the thieves had left behind. They had robbed and ransacked more than they could carry.
The detective was momentarily overwhelmed by the scale of the heist. Someone had overcome all of these security measures and made off with an untold fortune of diamonds, jewelry, precious metals, and cash without tripping a single alarm or injuring anyone. Peys didn’t say it out loud — not at the moment, anyway — but he couldn’t help but be awed by the skill required for such a heist.
That thought was quickly followed by another, darker realization: whoever had pulled off this seemingly perfect crime would be impossible to find.
"Like a diamond, this true-life caper is clear, colorful, and brilliant."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Fans of caper books and movies will be in seventh heaven here. ...A must-read for true-crime fans."
Booklist (starred review)
"[T]ells the story with the gripping pace of a true-crime 'Ocean’s Eleven.'"
The New York Post
"[A]s compelling as any work of fiction."
"[A] caper movie in print… offers exactly the right blend of diversion and pith."
"[A] riveting narrative."
"Flawless is a page-turner... [T]he sheer massed detail gathered from multiple sources is impressive."
Globe & Mail
"The whole fascinating story is outlined in a new book called Flawless."
BBC 4 Radio
"Flawless is a true crime tale as entertaining as Hollywood's 'Ocean's Eleven.'"
"A breathless 'inside,' blow-by-blow, if not actually how-to, account of 'the largest diamond heist in history'" Harvard Magazine
"Meticulously reported and expertly assembled, Flawless is just the thing to get the blood of winter-weary readers moving."
"[A]n engrossing nonfiction thriller."
"Flawless is true, but it reads like crime fiction. It’s wonderfully researched, filled with details and contains a 60-page appendix. It could be an exciting caper movie."
"[T]he literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster."
"Fans of true crime...and of crime caper movies will especially enjoy this fun romp."
Praise for Flawless
"With Flawless, Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell take the genre of true crime to a new level. Reading Flawless you realize that sometimes reality can be more fantastic than most action films."
Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi, authors of The Monster of Florence
"Flawless is flawless. This is a one-hundred carat gem of a book. Flawless is an incredible, true, page-turning account of a half-billion dollar diamond robbery—the boldest, most daring diamond theft in the world."
J. North Conway, author of King of Heists
"That real life often outdoes fiction is no longer surprising, but when a true story is brilliantly told, it's a discovery worth shouting about. Flawless will leave you gasping as the authors gradually peel back the covers on one of the most audacious acts of high stakes mischief in the history of thievery."
Lee Gruenfeld, co-author of Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief
"How could a group of thieves have slipped into a building designed as a diamond fortress and escaped with millions of loot in tow without anyone noticing? In Flawless, Selby and Campbell expertly dissect this audacious crime in a compellingly expansive investigation ranging from the intricacies of the diamond industry to the history of the mob in Italy. A story that could have been ripped from the pages of a movie script but which is rooted in fact, Flawless is a rare true crime story—a real diamond in the rough."
Julian Rubinstein, author of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber
"Thoroughly researched and wonderfully written, Selby and Campbell tell the gripping story of the diamond heist of the century. Part whodunit, part mob tell-all, part diamond underworld reportage, Flawless is simply too good to miss."
Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist
"[T]heir account ... is masterly. The writers’ style has the reader literally on the edge of his or her seat; and like many criminals who possess iron discipline when a crime is in progress, they describe how the discipline evaporated once the prize had been gained and of how the gang left a rich picking of clues which brought about their downfall... read the book — you won’t be disappointed."
Dick Kirby, author of Villains