MADRID (Reuters) – A former Mexican beauty queen and a Romanian-Dutch accomplice have been arrested in Croatia for stealing $ 1.7 million worth of prestigious bottles of wine in Spain after a nine-month hunt across Europe, police said on Wednesday.
In a statement, Spanish national police said that on October 27, 2021, in the western city of Caceres, 45 wine bottles worth a total of 1.65 million euros, including a “unique” 19th-century vintage worth 310,000 euros. a carefully planned theft from the basements of the famous hotel restaurant El Atrio.
Police investigators believe the woman, a 29-year-old Mexican who, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, had competed in a beauty contest in her home country, distracted El Atrio waiters by ordering room service from the Michelin restaurant after the kitchen had closed. .
Meanwhile, her 47-year-old male accomplice slipped down to the wine cellar, opened it with a master key he had stolen during a previous visit, and filled three backpacks with the bottles, wrapped them in hotel room towels for protection, according to the police statement.
The next day, the hotel CCTV caught the couple, who had checked in with fake Swiss identity documents, checked out at 05.30 and left on foot without leaving a trace of their presence at the hotel, it is said, which led to the police initially believing an organized gang stood behind the robbery.
The two suspects had visited El Atrio three times before the robbery, it is stated in the police statement, and had, like many customers, been given a tour of the wine cellar.
Among the stolen artefacts was a bottle of prestigious French Bordeaux Chateau d’Yquem from 1806, which had an “unmanageable” value, said sommelier Jose Polo, co-owner of El Atrio.
“This bottle was part of my personal story, almost part of me, of the history of Atrio, but also of Caceres, of the people, of wine lovers around the world,” Polo said in a letter to local media quoted by El Pais.
The two suspects left Spain within days and were pursued for several months across Europe before being identified by Croatian border guards when crossing from Montenegro, police said.
Spanish police worked with colleagues in the Netherlands, Croatia and Romania as well as Interpol to catch the couple, who have not been identified pending extradition and formal charges.
The stolen wine has not been found and the investigation continues, according to Spanish media.
($ 1 = 0.9758 euros)
(Reporting by Christina Thykjaer and Emma Pinedo, editing by Inti Landauro and Mark Heinrich)