Telling twins apart,new twist in Berlin heist

The investigation into an audacious multimillion-dollar jewellery heist here at Germany’s largest department store took a strange twist last week...

Written by New York Times | Berlin | Published:February 22, 2009 1:17 am

The investigation into an audacious multimillion-dollar jewellery heist here at Germany’s largest department store took a strange twist last week when DNA found in a glove at the crime scene led investigators to not one,but two suspects. The question facing prosecutors — one that could undermine their case against the pair — is whose DNA it is,since the suspects are twins.

In the early morning hours of Sunday,January 25,masked thieves climbed onto a second-floor awning at a famous department store,Kaufhaus des Westens,then forced open a window. The three men,who were caught on surveillance tape,lowered themselves to the main floor of the store with a rope ladder.

The criminals managed to avoid setting off the store’s security systems,including motion detectors,while breaking into cabinets and showcases at an outlet of the jewellery store Christ. They made it out of the building undetected,with jewellery and watches reportedly worth millions of dollars.

In the process,the burglars left behind the rope ladder as well as the glove that would provide investigators with the crucial clue,albeit a more complicated one than it first appeared.

The robbery alone was enough to transfix the German capital. Not only was it a spectacular crime,but Kaufhaus des Westens,also known as KaDeWe and is the second largest department store in Europe after Harrods,is a Berlin icon. The store,near the famous Kurfürstendamm shopping avenue and the Zoological Garden train station,opened in 1907 and became synonymous with luxury in the nation’s capital.

The break-in was discovered the following Monday morning,when the store opened. The jeweller offered a reward of up to 100,000 euros,about $128,000,for the recovery of the jewellery and the watches.

Last week the police arrested two men identified only by their first names and last initials,as is customary in German criminal proceedings,Abbas and Hassan O,both 27. But then what seemed like a case straight out of a Steve McQueen movie took a sudden turn toward The Parent Trap,when investigators realised that the suspects were twins,and apparently identical,making them all but indistinguishable genetically.

Local newspapers reported that the rules of German criminal procedure did not allow the most advanced DNA tests,which might be able to differentiate between identical twins. This could lead to a situation in which each could claim that the other had committed the crime,potentially allowing both to go free.

Michael Grunwald,a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office,said he would not comment on what he called speculation over how the fact that the suspects were twins might complicate efforts to prosecute them. “So much can still occur at such an early point in the investigation,with so much movement in the case,” he said.

Bernhard Schodrowski,spokesman for the Berlin Police Department,said that investigators were still looking for a total of at least four suspects. “We have three on video and believe there was at least one other acting as a driver or other kind of helper outside,” Schodrowski said.

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