Diamond dealer and family attacked by robbers
A diamond dealer and his family were held hostage for 18 hours last weekend in their home in Wilrijk, outside Antwerp, by three men who made off with a suspected €4.5 million in stones.
Kidnapping raises new security fears in the Antwerp industry
The two men, who were reported as speaking Italian, posed as policemen to gain entry to the home of Pankaj Maldar, an Indian who heads the Antwerp diamond traders Karp Impex. After resisting for hours, he was forced to go to his office while the gang stood guard over his family – a so-called “tiger kidnapping”. The robbery took place on Friday, 5 March, but only became known after news leaked out on the website of The Times of India.
The possible Italian identity of the thieves recalls the biggest diamond robbery ever to take place in Antwerp, in 2003, when the strong boxes of the Antwerp Diamond Centre were cleaned out by thieves working undisturbed over the Valentine’s weekend. Members of the gang, headed by Leonardo Notarbartolo, were later arrested, but the diamonds have never been recovered.
Since then, security in the Antwerp diamond quarter has been stepped up, but that has only led to robbers looking for weak spots, such as dealers’ homes, according to Antwerp alderman Ludo Van Campenhout. He promised that traders’ homes would be protected by increased patrols. But personal security, he said, “is not a matter for the police”. Interior minister Annemie Turtelboom, meanwhile, was due this week to meet with city representatives to review security.
The fear is that such incidents could strengthen calls among some traders to move out of Antwerp, taking a large part of the €45 billion industry with them. Jewish dealers favour a move to Tel Aviv, while Indians, the other major ethnic group involved in the business, to Mumbai. “Leaving Antwerp is an option if nothing is done to improve our security,” said Vasant Metha, chairman of the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, and a friend of the victim.
“Robberies of diamond dealers are as good as non-existent in Antwerp,” said a spokesman for Van Campenhout. Just last week, the city agreed to stop all postal and courier services into the diamond quarter from 22 March, following a suspect envelope which showed signs of contact with explosives.
Meanwhile, two men who tried to carry out a tiger kidnapping in Ghent last summer, which led to the murder of a 32-year-old Turkish diamond trader, were arrested and charged. The dealer was shot in the back while grappling with the two robbers, while his wife was wounded in the arm. The robbers, both from Brussels, escaped with about €2,000.
• Two men shot a Brussels woman dead last Friday, 5 March, as they tried to hijack her car following a failed robbery. The men tried to hold up a jeweller’s shop in the Brussels commune of Ukkel with a fake gun. When the jeweller produced a real gun in self defence, they took it from him and ran off. The gun was later used to kill Frédérique Lévêque, who took too long to give up her car keys. Both men have been arrested; neither has a prior criminal record. One of them was reported to work as a security agent for the Brussels public transport authority MIVB.