PASSAU, Germany, March 24, 2009 — -- It's what many movies are made of: the perfect crime.
Identical twins Hassan and Abbas O., charged in a spectacular multimillion-dollar jewelry heist in Germany, have gone free because their genetic information is so similar that traces of DNA found at the crime scene failed to provide conclusive evidence for trial.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 25, thieves managed to break into Berlin's famous, luxury department store Kaufhaus des Westens, universally known as KaDeWe, stealing fine jewelry and pricey watches worth $6.5 million.
Surveillance cameras taped three masked men wearing gloves sliding down a rope from a store skylight, evading motion detectors and outsmarting the store's security system.
The bandits got away that night but left evidence behind: DNA, found in a trace of sweat after police secured a discarded rubber glove at the crime scene.
Investigators ran the material through the German criminal database and came up with the twins Hassan and Abbas O., who both have criminal records for theft and fraud. They cannot be named in full, under German law, which prohibits such suspects from being identified until they are convicted.
The 27-year-old brothers, who live in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, were arrested two weeks after the high-profile incident with police suspecting that at least one of them took part in the theft.
By the end of last week, however, they were released before the case could ever come to trial after confusion over which one of them was the alleged culprit.
After using DNA analysis methods accepted by German courts, the twins' DNA proved to be so similar that neither could be exclusively linked to the evidence.
"From the evidence we have, we can deduce that at least one of the brothers took part in the crime," the court wrote in a statement, "but it has not been possible to determine which one."
Both brothers have refused to cooperate with police ever since they were arrested, and no further evidence has been found. There is also no trace of the third man involved, and the loot remains undiscovered.
If the DNA Doesn't Fit, Acquit
Hassan O.'s lawyer, Axel Weimann, said, "Those who remain silent are not necessarily covering up their guilt , but rather simply making use of their constitutional rights."
Weimann also said that the glove with the DNA evidence was only proof that either twin had been wearing it at some point but not necessarily proof that either twin had been at the crime scene, because it could have been placed there by someone else.
German law stipulates that each criminal must be individually proved guilty, and another arrest warrant can be issued if new evidence emerges.
Police are continuing their investigation, but, for now, authorities had no choice but to set the twins free.