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Richmond firm hit in brazen diamond heist

Michael Schwartz February 21, 2013 0
A screenshot of the Brink's Co. website.

A screenshot taken Wednesday of the Brink’s Co. website.

A Hollywood-style diamond heist in Belgium could result in a big hit to the bottom line of a Richmond firm.

Armored car and security giant Brink’s Co. – based in a West End office park – said Wednesday that it was one of several security firms handling shipments of diamonds stolen in a brazen caper.

“On Feb. 18, an armed gang attacked a Swiss-bound plane at the airport in Brussels, Belgium, and stole an unconfirmed amount of diamonds, a portion of which was being shipped by Brink’s,” the company said in its statement.

The Wall Street Journal reported that masked gunmen wearing police uniforms on Monday evening stole more than 120 packages of diamonds worth at least $50 million.

The robbery was described as “well-prepared and very professional.”

Brink’s has not disclosed the total value of the diamonds it handled related to the incident. But the company said it expects the loss to have a “significant impact” on its first quarter earnings.

“This is a significant event that is still under investigation,” Brink’s spokesman Ed Cunningham said Wednesday. “We’re pretty limited in what we can say, because there’s a lot yet to be determined.”

Some estimates of the total value of the stolen gems are as high as $350 million, and reports suggested that the loss could disrupt diamond-trading markets.

“The truth of the matter is that it’s hard to know the full amount,” Cunningham said. “We know what we put on the plane. We have a good handle on what we lost. What we don’t know is what the other customers had on the plane.”

As a global security firm that brings in billions of dollars in revenue a year and has operations in 100 countries, Brink’s has insurance in place to cover such losses. It said in its statement that it had notified its customers affected by the robbery, all of whom would be reimbursed in full.

“I can’t speak for our competitors,” Cunningham said. “Our insurance program covers the losses of this incident.”

Brink’s insurance program, he said, consists of a self-insurance component by which the company covers losses up to a certain amount with its own money. It then uses an outside insurer through the Lloyds of London network to cover additional losses.

Brink’s wouldn’t identify the affected customers.

The gunmen attacked a Helvetic Airways plane as it sat at the Brussels Airport, according to the Wall Street Journal. The airport is known as a global hub for precious metals in transit.

They escaped through a cut fence in a black Audi A8 sedan and a black Mercedes van, complete with blue police-style lights. None of the security companies’ vehicles were attacked in the incident. No injuries have been reported as a result of the heist.

“It’s certainly a significant robbery. It’s caused some sensation in the media, that’s for sure,” Cunningham said. “Every attack is different. Some are far more sophisticated than others. This was a pretty sophisticated attack.”

Brink’s moves cash and other valuables all around the world, from filling ATM machines to handling large shipments of precious metals.

Cunningham said certain regions of the world have higher threat levels. The company tracks the number of incidents it deals with each year and related losses internally but doesn’t release the figures publicly.

Although robberies do come with the territory, the incident in Brussels stands out, Cunningham said.

“It’s more significant than most,” he said.

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