‘Ocean’s 11’ style gang dug tunnels into bank vault near Antwerp’s diamond quarter

Thieves carried out a daring heist by burrowing tunnels up through the floor of a bank vault close to Antwerp’s diamond quarter, after risking their lives by crawling through sewage pipes.

Between 20 to 30 out of hundreds of safes in the vault were reported as being cracked in Sunday’s burglary in Belgium’s second city.

The BNP Paribas Fortis branch caters mostly to a clientele of Jewish and Indian diamond traders, who are giving testimony as to what was in their safes. There has been no estimate of what, if anything, has been stolen.

The thieves dug a 400 metre long tunnel from a basement of a house close to the branch, before crawling through the sewer system to the bank and digging another tunnel, of about five to ten metres,  into the vault.

The bank’s security company called police after an alarms was triggered at 1.44 pm. When employees opened the vault, they were confronted with the hole in the floor but there was no sign of the gang responsible.

The raid, in Belgium’s second city was immediately compared to the intricate plots hatched by hoodlums in Hollywood crime caper Ocean’s 11. 

“I do not know how these burglars got out alive,” engineer Els Liekens, who works for a water purification company, told local radio.

“When it starts raining, the rainwater gets into the sewers and they can fill up very quickly, which can lead to drowning if you’re in it," she said before saying the tunnels could have collapsed as the digging could cause subsidence.

She said the thieves would have had to crawl on their stomachs at times and also risked being overcome by gases normally contained in the pipes.

“For the time being, no suspects have been found,” the public prosecutor’s office said.

Belgian media reported that police forensic teams, who were supplied with oxygen by the fire brigade had found tools and equipment abandoned underground.

The potential victims were described as “frustrated” after the vault was sealed by police and no information given as to which safes had been opened.

The bank was able to inform customers with safes outside of a marked area in a vault that they were not affected.

Although there were comparisons to the Ocean’s 11 franchise, the raid is more reminiscent of an infamous  1976 burglary of a Société Générale​ bank[in Nice, France. That, described as France’s heist of the century, was far more successful with estimates of the haul as high as 100 million francs. 

The burglary was turned into 1979 French film Les Égouts du paradis (The Sewers of Paradise) and a British movie released the same year called Sewers of Gold, which is also known as Dirty Money and starred Lovejoy actor Ian McShane.