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Dresden jewel heist could leave $1 billion in treasure lost to "criminal underworld"

How the Dresden museum heist unfolded
How the Dresden museum heist unfolded 01:20

German police were working furiously Tuesday morning to track down the bandits behind one of the biggest, most brazen jewel heists of all time. Surveillance video released by the police shows two thieves breaking into the 500-year-old Dresden Castle and making off with 18th century treasure from its famous Green Vault room.

One report has suggested the stolen items could be worth more than $1 billion, but the director of Dresden's state art collections, Marion Ackermann, said the real value of the jewels to Germany was "immeasurable."  

CBS News Roxana Saberi reports that, in addition to the surveillance video, German police also released images of the exquisite items that were stolen, many of them encrusted with diamonds, rubies and sapphires and other jewels. One of the pilfered objects is a sword with a hilt adorned by nine large diamonds and 770 smaller ones.

Jewellery stolen during a robbery from the Green Vault city palace in Dresden is seen in an undated photo provided by the Saxony state police
Jewels stolen during a robbery from the Green Vault city palace in Dresden, Germany, November 25, 2019 is seen in an undated photo provided by the Saxony state police. Polizeidirektion Dresden handout/Getty

It all vanished within minutes when two hooded thieves, caught on security camera video, used an axe to smash through a glass showcase.

Unarmed security guards saw it happening on their video screens and alerted police, but by the time they arrived the burglars had fled. An Audi A6, which police believe may have been the getaway car, was found torched in an underground parking garage in the city later on Monday.

Police have issued a call for any witnesses to come forward.

The drama unfolded inside Dresden Castle's 18th century Green Vault, which had held one of Europe's largest collections of treasure.

Arthur Brand, a prominent investigator of stolen art, told Saberi that such identifiable stolen artifacts would be impossible to sell on the open market.

"Art can be money. But you cannot sell it; once it's in the criminal underworld, it stays there," he said.

Authorities now fear the thieves might break up the jewelry, or even melt it down.

There was a small silver lining; the vault's most precious treasure, a rare 41-karat green diamond, was still sitting safely in New York on Tuesday, on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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