Flawless
Inside the Largest
Diamond Heist
in History

Scott Andrew Selby,
Greg Campbell

(Union Square)
    "We make no pretense that we are not
    seeking to manage the diamond market,
    to control supply, to manage
    prices, and to act collusively
    with our partners in the business."

    --- Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman de Beers
    Consolidated Mining Company, March 1999.
If you are going to write about "the largest diamond heist in history," it should be as breathtaking and as suspenseful as the robbery itself. And Flawless is just that. I picked it up, expecting another yawn story of another yawn great train robbery --- but six hours later, I found myself half-way through the book, rooting (get this!) for Leonardo Notarbartolo and his buddies. After all their preparations --- two years worth --- I wanted them to get the hell in and the hell out of the Diamond Center there in Antwerp, which had been the subject of so many meetings, planning trips, studies, clandestine videos and mock-ups.

I was with them when they were scheming to defeat the double magnets in the vault door, working on how to vitiate the motion and heat sensors, planning on how to unplug the locks into and out of the garage, and wanting to be sure that the two security guards were somewhere else on that fateful night of February 15-16, 2003.

What is it that attracts us to these unlikely rogues from Turin? Perhaps it was their very homeliness: how they liked to spend time in the cafés over their coffee; how attached they were to their families; how they plotted and schemed like the professionals they were; how they protected and gave ultimate trust to each other. Most of all, perhaps it was their vow. "Any thug could stick a gun in someone's face and make off with his money and diamonds, but crooks like that were at the bottom of the food chain... Sans armes, sans haine, et sans violence. (Without guns, without hatred, and without violence.)"

Now that's my kind of thug.

§     §     §

The two authors know their stuff. Like the heist-meisters, they make themselves masters of detail, of timing, of chance ... coming to know the people in the Diamond Center and the detectives who later unraveled everything, getting it all in the right place at the right time.

They follow Notarbartolo into his dingy rented room in Antwerp, go into the Diamond Center with him, to his shabby office ... studying every detail for two years, taking videos of every inch between office, vault and the get-away garage. They artfully add in the other details: the diamond trade as a whole universe, the specifics of Antwerp (historical, contemporary), and --- most important of all --- the brotherhood of the diamantaires. Like the Turin gang, they are loyal, depend on associates' words, utilize family and history to protect each other.

There are so many secrets of the diamond trade revealed here: where they come from, how diamonds are bought and sold based so much on faith --- your word is honored among the diamantaires who all know each other. (You don't screw your brothers ... because they'll never take you back if you do.)

Then there is the matter of the "black" diamonds ... those that don't go on the government books. (It is thought that many that were stolen were never reported to the officials because so many were black.)

There are many more scintillating details here. There are the many blind spots built inadvertently into the Diamond Center. There is the construction of the big safe itself, with its great LIPS vault door. There are explications of how to undo the massive magnets in the door, the ones that contain alarms that go directly to off-site security offices.

There are the ways a motion and heat detector operate --- and how to defuse them (with hair spray!) There is, most of all, the delicate tension in spending time finding the weak links: you work like the diamond insurance security people; you seek the flaws. If you want to get into the safe after hours, you forge your tools and take advantage of luck and fearlessness (and holidays: it was Valentine's Day weekend ... a diamond's best friend).

And if you blow it, it is because you forgot one tiny detail: in this case, after you and your gang spend six hours in the vault (at night and on the weekends, the cameras lie unattended), looting 109 safe-deposit boxes with the most exotic tools possible, and, then, as you make your way out of the vault, out of the garage, onto the street, out of Antwerp, out of Belgium, you don't think of the one simple flaw: that one of your operatives will dump all the refuse of your job --- bags and bags --- in a place that will be discovered within a few hours, and after a mere twelve hours, the Diamond Police will be on your ass. You can be fast and precise and careful, but with one mistake they are on your case.

It's a rich story, in every sense of the word, and if you ever want to do a diamond heist, let me suggest that you read Flawless. It will at least advise you on how to discard your sandwiches (eat them all up: they contain your DNA), your receipts (with their names and addresses and dates; burn them) and your rubber gloves (DNA too).

After a few hours with Flawless, you will certainly be prepared. Especially for the day when you bust out of the garage, go back to the apartment with your cache of diamonds, "so many that their weight strained the seams of the bag."

    They were poured carefully onto the rug. There were thousands of rough and polished diamonds. They picked up some emeralds which they threw away. "Even though this little collection of emeralds still had some value ... at that moment, in comparison to what else they had, it was rubbish. It's like having an envelope with tens of thousands of dollars and one with small coins," said one investigating detective.
--- Richard Saturday
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