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Last week, Milanese authorities found Leonardo Notarbartolo, the man accused of masterminding the world’s biggest diamond heist, in possession of approximately 2.2 pounds of rough, uncut diamonds.
Many of the stolen diamonds were never recovered, and Notarbartolo was detained for driving around with hundreds of diamonds stashed in his BMW, just a few months after being released from prison for the crime.
Case closed? Not so fast.
Due to the slippery nature of rough diamonds — and of Leonardo Notarbartolo himself — the alleged criminal mastermind could walk away scot free, with the confiscated diamonds back in his possession.
Ever the charmer, Notarbartolo claims he purchased the diamonds legitimately for a mere 10,000 euros, as he told Wired’s Joshua Davis last week through an intermediary. (Davis wrote about the heist in March.) On Monday, the alleged jewel thief contacted Davis again to say that the confiscated diamonds are not precious jewels, but rather industrial-grade diamonds used to manufacture cutting tools, which is why he paid only 10,000 euros for the whole pile.
“Notarbartolo is saying, ‘These are my diamonds. I got them legitimately. Give them back.’ And he’s hired a lawyer, Basilio Foti, to advocate for the return of the diamonds,” explained Davis.
It was February 16, 2003 — a clear, frozen Sunday evening in Belgium. Notarbartolo took the E19 motorway out of Antwerp. In the passenger seat, a man known as Speedy fidgeted nervously, damp with sweat. Notarbartolo punched it, and his rented Peugeot 307 sped south toward Brussels. They hadn't slept in two days.
Speedy scanned the traffic behind them in the side-view mirror and maintained a tense silence. Notarbartolo had worked with him for 30 years—they were childhood buddies—but he knew that his friend had a habit of coming apart at the end of a job. The others on the team hadn't wanted Speedy in on this one—they said he was a liability. Notarbartolo could see their point, but out of loyalty, he defended his friend. Speedy could handle it, he said.
And he had. They had executed the plan perfectly: no alarms, no police, no problems. The heist wouldn't be discovered until guards checked the vault on Monday morning. The rest of the team was already driving back to Italy with the gems. They'd rendezvous outside Milan to divvy it all up. There was no reason to worry. Notarbartolo and Speedy just had to burn the incriminating evidence sitting in a garbage bag in the backseat.