MAINZ, Germany – German police raided 18 properties and arrested three people on Tuesday in connection with last year’s cheeky jewelry theft from a museum housing one of Europe’s largest collections of royal treasures, officials said.
Police searched apartments, garages and vehicles, primarily in Berlin’s Neukoelln district, looking for stolen treasures and other evidence, including media storage devices, clothing and tools.
More than 1,600 officers were involved in the morning raids, police said.
The November robbery was caught on security camera, which showed two men using an ax to break into Dresden’s world-famous Grünes Gewölbe museum or the Green Vault. The men escaped with more than a dozen 18th-century jewelry, authorities said.
It is not known whether the two men in the surveillance video were among those arrested on Tuesday.
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Dresden Police spokesman Thomas Geithner told NBC News the three suspects arrested were German citizens and were associated with a gang linked to the Berlin family.
Geithner could not confirm whether any of the stolen items were recovered.
German media reported following the heist that the stolen jewelry was worth up to 1 billion euros ($ 1.2 billion), but the museum said the items taken were “priceless.”
The jewelry was part of a museum collection founded in the 18th century by August the Strong, a Saxon ruler who was later the King of Poland.
One of the museum’s most famous pieces, the 41-carat Green Diamond, was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at the time of the robbery.
After the burglary, Saxony Home Secretary Roland Woeller told reporters that the cultural loss was “invaluable,” and art experts expressed concern that the jewelry could disappear forever. if the coins were broken and their precious stones removed for sale.
The treasures of the Green Vault survived Allied bombing raids during WWII, to be transported as spoils of war by the Soviet Union. They were returned to Dresden, the historic capital of the state of Saxony, in 1958.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Andy Eckardt reported from Mainz, Germany, Yuliya Talmazan from London.