Flawless

Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History, Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell, Union Square Press.

On February 15, 2003, a band of Italian thieves known as The School of Turin subverted all the security features of the supposedly impenetrable vault of Antwerp’s Diamond Center and made off with at least a hundred million dollars in diamonds, cash and other valuables. It was the perfect crime — carried out after 27 months of research and surveillance — followed by a near-perfect getaway.

In this fast-paced account of the heist, the authors reveal how a four-man gang — Leonardo Notarbartolo, Ferdinando Finotto, Elio Dornio and Pietro Tavano — pulled off the heist, which was enabled, in part, by the Diamond Center’s failure to upgrade its security systems as new technology became available. For instance, surveillance video was (still) being recorded on VHS tape, and the outdated motion detectors were susceptible to being masked. Management also ignored requests to replace all of the vault’s safe deposit box doors, which had evinced a design flaw that made it possible to pry them open. (Tellingly, the thieves were unable to access any of the dozen or so safe deposit boxes that had been upgraded after owners forgot their combinations.)

Initially it seemed doubtful that the thieves would ever be apprehended, but the quartet made a single critical mistake, dumping their garbage in a wildlife and nature preserve on the outskirts of Brussels, the trash soon discovered by a meticulous caretaker. Betrayed by their waste, all of the perpetrators were arrested and imprisoned. Yet none of the four paid a significant price. By the summer of 2009, all were out of prison — Notarbartolo having spent the most time behind bars, a little more than six years. “Now they have the rest of their lives — and a fortune in stolen diamonds — to make up for lost time,” note the authors, who have done an admirable job researching and telling this remarkable story. “Flawless” is definitely worth the (cover) price.