A sweet old man charmed his way into the trust of ABN Amro bank employees in Antwerp’s diamond district. For 12 months, a man calling himself Carlos Hector Flomenbaum from Argentina, became close to bank employees, giving them chocolates, and making friends. In the end, Flomenbaum secured an electronic key to the vaults and robbed 120,000 carets in diamonds.
Diamonds Go Missing
On the afternoon of March 2, or on the morning of March 5, 2007, a con man , known to bank employees as Carlos Hector Flomenbaum, robbed ABN Amro bank of $28 million in diamonds. Reports are sketchy because ABN Amro bank waited a week to announce that a crime was committed. Monday, March 12, Belgium authorities asked the public for help and offered a $2.6 million reward.
The suspect, characterized as a sweet old man, befriended bank employees over a twelve month period often bringing gifts such as Argentinian chocolates. Once the bank employees became accustomed to Flomenbaum and his often daily bank transaction as a diamond merchant, he was given an electronic key card to the banks vault. On the day in question, Flomenbaum entered the bank, robbed open safety deposit boxes, and left with his loot. His actions unknown until officials reviewed video footage of him entering the vault.
U.S Officials Help Identify Diamond Thief
Belgium police, in conference with American authorities, identified the thief as Yehuda Mishali. According to Chicago Tribune (1998), Mishali spent time in an American prison for similar heists in the U.S., one such heist totaling half a million dollars.
“Despite all the efforts one makes in investing in security, when a human error is made nothing can help.”
Sentenced in Absentia
Belgium court officials charged and sentenced Yehuda Mishali in absentia for his crimes – a fine of $3000 and five years in prison.
Why is this a Mystery
Despite millions spent to purchase cutting edge surveillance and security technology, diamond dealers, and by extension, their banks, rely on trust. Trust to treat other diamond merchants fairly, to pay promptly, and to keep your hands off other’s diamonds. Mishali was able to charm bank employees, obtain a key to a room with open safety deposit boxes, and walk out with $28 million in diamonds – some of very special size and cut. From here, Mishali disappeared. Most likely to a country with no extradition treaty to Belgium, the European Union, or the United States. Mishali committed the perfect non-violent crime. His week long head start allowed him time to escape.
- The overall ‘trust’ of the diamond community
- Relaxed security in an area of such high wealth
- Belgium wait a week to announce theft
- Passport stolen years before in Israel
- American accent – Argentinian passport
- Quickly recognized and identified by U.S.
- Not on Europol or interpol wanted list
Apparently, 13 years is long enough for a country to forget about the case of missing diamonds. Perhaps statute of limitations is up, and the thief is free to go without serving his sentence. Or, perhaps there is more to the mystery yet to be uncovered.