Crime does not pay. Some crimes, however, bring major paydays. Just ask the perpetrators of some of the biggest robberies of modern times.
The Agricultural Bank of China robbery was the embezzlement of nearly 51 million yuan (c.US$6.7 million) from the Handan branch of the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) in Hebei province between March 16 and April 14, 2007. Perpetrated by two vault managers employed at the branch, it is the largest bank robbery in China’s history.
The idea for the heist had begun when one of the managers, Ren Xiaofeng, stole 200,000 yuan (c.US$26,000) in October 2006 with the complicity of two security guards, Zhao Xuenan and Zhang Qiang. Ren then purchased tickets for the Chinese lottery, with the intention of winning a sufficiently large prize that he could return the missing funds before their absence was noted, and still have money left over for himself. Despite the unfavourable odds Ren was successful, and he was able to return the 200,000 to the vault.
Emboldened by his initial success, Ren joined forces with another manager, Ma Xiangjing, to perpetrate the same crime on a far larger scale. During March and April 2007, the two stole 32.96 million yuan, and spent almost the entire amount—31.25 million—on lottery tickets. This time good fortune was not on their side. In desperation, they stole six cash boxes containing a further 18 million yuan on April 14, spending 14 million in a single day in an effort to recover their losses. Despite Handan reporting record lottery ticket sales, the two recouped only 98,000 yuan.
On April 16, ABC branch managers discovered the missing money and notified the police. With insufficient funds to cover the losses, Ren and Ma bought fake IDs and cars with their meagre winnings, and fled. This prompted a massive manhunt, with the Public Security Ministry placing the two men on their “Most Wanted” list. Ma was arrested in Beijing on April 18, and Ren was found a day later in Lianyungang, a coastal town in Jiangsu Province.
Ren and Ma were charged with embezzlement, while Zhao and Zhang, the security guards, were charged with misappropriating public funds. A fifth man, Song Changhai, was also prosecuted for harbouring Ma while he was on the run.The three accomplices were all given sentences of up to five years in prison, while the two managers were sentenced to death. A landlord, a cab driver, and a car saleswoman in Lianyungang shared a 200,000 yuan reward for assisting police arrest Ren, while in Handan five employees of the bank were fired. Only 5.5 million yuan was ever recovered by the police, with the remainder squandered by the perpetrators’ gambling.
Both Ren and Ma were executed in Hebei province on April 1, 2008.
The 2009 Bank of Ireland robbery was a large robbery of cash from the College Green cash centre of the Bank of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland, on 27 February 2009. It was the largest bank robbery in the Republic of Ireland’s history. Criminals engaged in the tiger kidnapping of a junior bank employee, 24-year-old Shane Travers, and forced him to remove €7.6 million (US$9 million) in cash from the bank as his girlfriend and two others were held hostage.
Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, criticised the bank for its failure to follow what he termed “established protocols” during the robbery, as the Irish police force, the Garda Síochána, was not informed of the incident until the money had been removed from the bank. A manhunt is under way for the perpetrators, with seven people being arrested and €1.8 million of the stolen cash located, scattered across Dublin, on 28 February.
€1.8 million of the stolen cash was recovered and seven people were arrested by gardaí in a number of incidents on 28 February. A house in Phibsboro was sealed off and ten more houses were searched. A total of five cars and one van were seized by gardaí. One of the men was arrested following a chase along the M50 near the Navan road, with two bales of packed cash being discovered in his car. Four other men were arrested in a car in Monk Place and in Great Western Square, Phibsboro, and two more were seized in a house on Great Western Villas, Phibsboro. Cash was also found in a car in Phibsboro.
The six men and one woman are believed to be members of a well-known gang from Dublin’s north inner city and have connections to a major Dublin gangland figure. On 2 March, those arrested appeared before the High Court to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, viewing the warrants issued by the District Court the day before as invalid. That day, two of those arrested were released.
Bank employee Shane Travers was arrested on 28 January 2010 based on suspicion that the robbery had been an inside job.
The Graff Diamonds robbery took place on 6 August 2009 when two men posing as customers entered the premises of Graff Diamonds in New Bond Street, London and stole jewellery worth nearly £40 million (US$65 million). It was believed to be the largest ever gems heist in Britain at the time, and the second largest British robbery after the £53 million raid on a Securitas depot in Kent in 2006. The thieves’ haul totalled 43 items of jewellery, consisting of rings, bracelets, necklaces and wristwatches. Britain’s previous largest jewellery robbery also took place at Graff’s, in 2003.
The men arrived at the store by taxi and once inside produced two handguns which they used to threaten staff. They made no attempt to conceal their faces from the premises’ CCTV cameras, and police later discovered that they had used a professional make-up artist to alter their hair by using wigs, their skin tones and their features using latex prosthetics. The artist took four hours to apply the disguises, having been told that it was for a music video. The same make-up studio had unwittingly helped disguise members of the gang that robbed the Securitas depot in 2006. Viewing the results in a mirror, one of the men commented: “My own mother wouldn’t recognise me now,” to which his accomplice is reported to have laughed and replied: “That’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?”
A female member of staff was briefly held hostage as they exited the premises, at which point they fired a shot, although nobody was injured. Having released her they then escaped the scene in a blue BMW vehicle. This vehicle was abandoned in nearby Dover Street, where a second gunshot was fired into the ground while the robbers switched to a second vehicle, a silver Mercedes. They again switched vehicles in Farm Street, after which there was no further information regarding their whereabouts.
All of the diamonds had been laser-inscribed with the Graff logo and a Gemological Institute of America identification number.
Detectives investigating the robbery stated: “They knew exactly what they were looking for and we suspect they already had a market for the jewels.” The suspects’ details were circulated to all ports and airports but police believed they would have an elaborately prepared escape route and had already left the country.
On 20 August 2009 two men, Craig Calderwood, 26, of no fixed abode, and Solomun Beyene, 24, of Lilestone Road, London NW8, were charged in connection with the robbery. On 21 August, a third man, Clinton Mogg, 42, of Westby Road, Bournemouth, was also charged, and Calderwood and Beyene were remanded in custody by Westminster Magistrates’ Court. On 22 August, Mogg appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. All three were remanded in custody to appear at Kingston Crown Court on 1 September. A fourth man, aged 50, was arrested and bailed. As of mid-October 2009, as many as ten male suspects have been arrested in connection with the robbery. Charges brought against the individuals include conspiracy with others to commit robbery, attempted murder, holding someone hostage, possessing firearms and using a handgun to resist arrest.
The largest diamond heist ever went down in Antwerp, Belgium — one of the world’s diamond capitals. The Antwerp Diamond Center building houses 160 vaults in which diamond brokers leave their stones. In February 2003, 123 of those vaults were emptied of their contents by four people who had been planning the theft for at least two years. They rented office space in the building, analyzed the alarm system and learned how to bypass it, stole keys to the vault and made copies. On the day of the break-in, they recorded over all of the security cameras. They were later caught by Antwerp police, but the $100 million worth of diamonds and other gems they stole have never been found.
It’s an impressive heist, no doubt. So what can top a $100 million diamond theft that bypassed one of the world’s most comprehensive security systems and took two years of meticulous planning? One that didn’t have to bypass security at all.
Diamond heists happen at least every few years. After all, diamonds are small, lightweight, valuable, and police dogs aren’t going to smell them out at the airport. For the same reason, diamonds are protected by the best security systems available — infrared sensors, “unbreakable” safes, guards with guns and phones that open a direct line to the police when they’re lifted off the receiver. Antwerp even has special police patrolling the diamond center. But sometimes, the security doesn’t help, especially when the thief is given keys to the vault.
The Securitas depot robbery was a robbery which took place in the early hours of 22 February 2006, between 01:00 and 02:15 UTC in England, an operation that succeeded in stealing the largest cash amount in British crime history. At least six men abducted and threatened the family of the manager, tied up fourteen staff members and stole £53,116,760 (about US$92.5 million at the time of the robbery) in bank notes from a Securitas Cash Management Ltd depot in Vale Road, Tonbridge, Kent.
The manager of the depot, Colin Dixon, was abducted at about 18:30 on 21 February, apparently while driving his Nissan Almera to his home in Herne Bay. He was pulled over on the A249 just outside Stockbury, a village North East of Maidstone, by what he thought was an unmarked police vehicle due to the blue lights behind the front grill. A man approached him in high-visibility clothing and a police-style hat. The manager proceeded to get into the police imposter’s car, thinking that he was a police officer, where he was then handcuffed by others in the vehicle. He was then driven west on the M20 motorway to the West Malling bypass where he was bound further, transferred into a white van and transported to a farm in an unknown location in west Kent.
As this was taking place, the manager’s wife and eight-year-old son were being held hostage at their home in Herne Bay, after they answered the door to men dressed in police uniforms, who falsely informed them that the manager had been involved in a road traffic accident. They were then driven to the farm at which the manager was being held, where he was told at gunpoint that failure to cooperate could put him and his family in danger.
The depot manager, his wife and son were taken to the Securitas depot in Tonbridge at around 01:00, travelling in a plain white van, being held at gunpoint. At the depot, 14 members of staff were bound by robbers, armed with handguns and wearing balaclavas.
The heist came to an end at approximately 02:15, although it was still another hour before staff members, who had been tied up, managed to raise the alarm. Police officers arriving on the scene discovered staff, the manager and his family, bound but physically unharmed.