James Thompson stole gem to pay off sizeable gambling debt.

A Scottish man has been jailed for the high profile theft of a £160,000 diamond at this year’s BaselWorld watch and jewellery show, after admitting in court that he “wanted to steal something of value” to pay off gambling debts.

The theft took place during this year’s show, with thief James Thompson admitting that he drank champagne to calm his nerves before approaching a diamond dealer posing as a fake stone dealer.


He has now been jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of stealing a diamond worth £160,000.

The 56-year-old told the judge at the Criminal Court in Basel that he stole the stone to pay off gambling debts. He had moved to Switzerland earlier this year to escape £100,000 worth of debt that he had racked up in Scotland.

According to the Scotsman.com Thompson drank alcohol to calm his nerves before snatching the diamond from a dealer’s table and slipping it into his jacket pocket.

He said in court: “The booze gave me the confidence to go ahead with the plan”.

He had created fake business cards and wore a suit when he met with the stone dealer. He had expressed interest in buying the £160,000 stone – said to be the most expensive of the selection he was shown – then pretended that he was angry, pocketing the stone when the dealer was distracted.

Swiss police described Thompson as “silver tongued” and said he moved among the dealers at the show in March with “aplomb and self-confidence”.

However, the theft was almost immediately spotted, despite him leaving the dealer’s stand quickly after the theft. Police said the dealer noticed the stone was missing “almost instantly”, with the police arriving on the scene withing minutes.

Thompson’s tactics were dubbed unsophisticated and desperate by police. He had checked into a Basel hotel under his own name and is said to have made no attempt to defend his actions.

He was appointed a Swiss lawyer, who said his client “realised the gravity of his offence but wasn’t in the best frame of mind when it was carried out”.

He was arrested the same day and other diamonds and fake business cards identifying him as a gemstone dealer were found amid empty bottles from a mini-bar, because he had been drinking to build up courage for the robberies.

Thompson told prosecutors he hoped to sell the diamond on the black market to pay off his debts, however it is unclear whether the other gemstones found in his room were stolen from Baselworld.