The ‘Arab mafia’ crime clan linked to ‘€1billion’ Dresden art heist: How Berlin’s Remmo family has blown up a bank, stolen a £3m gold coin and spread gang violence for decades
- Remmo clan is regarded as one of Berlin’s most notorious organised crime gangs
- Five of its members are suspected of carrying out last year’s Green Vault heist
- Clan has previously stolen a giant gold coin and blown up a bank in £8m raid
- Family patriarchs moved from Turkey and war-torn Lebanon during the 1980s
The German crime family linked to last year’s spectacular art heist in Dresden is one of Berlin’s most notorious clans with a long record of gang violence and infamous crimes to its name.
The Remmo family, regarded as one of the most dangerous players in the so-called ‘Arab mafia’ in Berlin, is in the spotlight once again after five of its members were named as suspects in last November’s Green Vault burglary.
Three Remmo suspects were arrested for robbery and arson in a massive police raid on Tuesday while two others, twin brothers Mohamed and Abdul Majed Remmo, are wanted on the same charges.
After Remmo family patriarchs moved to Europe from war-torn Lebanon in the 1980s, the clan first came to police attention following German reunification, beginning with the murder of a restaurant owner in 1992.
Since then, their series of eye-catching raids has included the theft of a £3million giant gold coin from a Berlin museum and an £8million bank robbery which ended in the branch blowing up.
The long list of crimes has led to numerous Remmo family members being jailed and some of their properties being seized – but their crime spree has not been halted.
Suspects: Twin brothers Mohamed Remmo (left) and Abdul Majed Remmo (right) are wanted in connection with last year’s spectacular art heist in Dresden
Under arrest: Bashir Remmo (left) and Rabih Remmo (right) were among three people arrested on Tuesday over last year’s jewel heist in Dresden
Heist: CCTV footage shows a burglar smashing a display case in Dresden’s Green Vault during the art theft in one of Germany’s oldest museums last November
The Remmo family comes from an ethnic group called the Mhallami, who mainly live in Turkey and Lebanon.
Hundreds of thousands of Turks emigrated to West Germany for work after World War II, while Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war sent some people fleeing to Europe.
These included the Remmos, who settled in Berlin and first attracted the attention of authorities following the fatal shooting of the Yugoslav restaurant owner in 1992.
Two brothers were blamed for the killing and a raid of their apartment uncovered heroin as well as a supply of blank Lebanese birth certificates.
In their early years, Remmo clan members were frequently arrested and jailed for drug dealing, theft and handling stolen goods.
On one occasion, a prosecutor pleaded with the mother of some of the criminals to make them see the light, but she told him: ‘Prison makes a man’.
While some Remmo relatives have pursued legitimate careers, others became involved in increasingly violent crimes as the years went on.
2019: A room in the Green Vault in Dresden where priceless items which once belonged to Augustus of Saxony was burgled last year in what authorities suspect was the latest in the Remmo crime family’s list of spectacular thefts
2017: This giant gold coin, known as the Big Maple Leaf and worth around £3million, was stolen from a Berlin museum three years ago and two Remmo family members were convicted over their role in the theft earlier this year
2014: Emergency workers at the scene of a Berlin bank which was blown up during an £8million robbery
Berlin has sometimes seen violent clashes between Remmo gangsters and rival clans which have ended in stabbings and shootings. One family member, Nidal Remmo, was shot dead in 2018.
Another Remmo relative was accused of clubbing a man to death with a baseball bat in 2017, but was found not guilty last year in a verdict which prosecutors are appealing to a higher court.
There were ugly scenes during the hearing as clan boss Issa Remmo, the father of the defendant, had to be wrestled away after rushing into the courtroom.
One of the family’s most spectacular raids came in 2014 when a gang of robbers stormed the safe deposits of a Berlin bank and stole around £8million worth of cash, jewellery and gold bars.
The burglars poured petrol on the floor to cover their traces, causing an explosion which nearly destroyed the entire bank.
DNA evidence eventually led to the conviction of Toufic Remmo, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2015.
Three years later, German police and prosecutors seized 77 properties worth £9million which were allegedly bought with the proceeds from the robbery.
Search for evidence: Police during a raid in Berlin on Tuesday which was linked to last year’s burglary in Dresden
Police officers wearing forensic gear work on a balcony of an apartment block in Berlin during Tuesday’s raid
Some of the properties were officially owned by a 19-year-old whose only declared income was state welfare payments.
By the time of those raids in 2018, the family was already in the spotlight again over the theft of a giant £3million gold coin from Berlin’s Bode Museum.
Stolen in 2017, the commemorative Big Maple Leaf coin has never been recovered and authorities suspect it was cut up into smaller pieces.
Two cousins, Ahmed and Wissam Remmo, were convicted and imprisoned along with a friend who worked as a security guard at the museum, while another Remmo relative was found not guilty.
Prosecutors said the burglars had broken in through a window, smashed a glass case with an axe and used a wheelbarrow and rope to hoist the coin into a car.
The suspects were arrested by German special police commandos after investigators searched dozens of properties and recovered a ladder and wheelbarrow by railway tracks near the museum.
The Remmo crime spree has long raised questions about how authorities could let them so brazenly flout the law for so long in a generally fairly low-crime country.
German authorities would ideally like to deport or extradite some of the gangsters to Lebanon, but some of them have no citizenship there.
A female police officer carries a box outside a building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district on Tuesday
Now, the family is under suspicion again over last year’s raid at the Green Vault, which was established in 1723 and contains the treasury of Augustus of Saxony.
The robbers launched their brazen raid last November after causing a power cut and breaking in through a window before stealing priceless 18th-century jewellery and other valuables.
The items stolen included a sword whose hilt is encrusted with nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, and a shoulderpiece which contains a 49-carat white diamond.
The director of Dresden’s state art collection, refused to put a value on the stolen items, calling them ‘priceless’, but estimates range up to €1billion.
Prosecutors did not initially name the three German citizens arrested, but a spokesman confirmed they are members of the Remmo family.
They are also hunting another two suspects, 21-year-old twins Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohammed Remmo, over the Dresden heist.
All five are accused of ‘serious gang robbery and two counts of arson,’ said Dresden prosecutors.
Berlin’s top security official, Andreas Geisel, said the latest raids on Tuesday should serve as a warning to organized crime families in general.
‘Nobody should believe that he set himself above the rules of the state,’ Geisel said.
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