Witnesses revealed the incident lasted about 30 seconds, during which one gang member attacked display cases with a sledgehammer while another brandished a gun. Amongst the stalls of fine art, the gang targeted a jewellery exhibit thought to be owned by London dealer Symbolic & Chase, damaging two glass vitrines.
James Butterwick, a British dealer who was there at the time, said to The New York Times that “things took a bit of a turn for the worse.” Most bystanders fled the scene, although a few stayed to watch the shocking event. One visitor briefly attempted to halt the robbers with a vase of flowers before being warded off by the gunman.
Video footage recorded by a witness shows the four thieves wearing blazers and flat caps but surprisingly no masks. Some have even compared the suspects to the nefarious characters in ‘Peaky Blinders’, the hit historical crime drama, due to their unusual choice of outfits.
Organisers of TEFAF said in a statement that “nobody was injured during the incident. The fair’s stringent safety procedures were followed and all visitors were successfully evacuated.” A dealer at TEFAF also commented to the Art Newspaper that the incident was “extremely well-handled. Most clients won’t even have realised it occurred.”
Police were on site within minutes after the alarm was raised. Two Belgium men in their 20’s were swiftly apprehended on route to the Belgian border via the main A2 motorway. A search for the other suspects is still ongoing and police have yet to state whether any jewellery was stolen or has been recovered.
This is not the first time TEFAF Maastricht has been targeted by thieves. During a heist in 2008, robbers got away with a diamond necklace worth $1.8 million (£1.5 million). Two years later, a pink sapphire platinum ring and necklace worth about $1.3 million (£1.1 million) were stolen from London-based jewellery dealer Hancocks. TEFAF is one of the world’s longest-running art fairs that specialises in fine art and antiquities, with 242 dealers featured this year.