Sweden launches manhunt after brazen helicopter heist at cash depot leaves police grounded
September 23rd, 2009
Sweden launches manhunt after helicopter heist
STOCKHOLM — With cinematic flourish, the masked robbers dropped from a helicopter onto the roof of a Swedish cash depot before dawn, broke into the building through a glass pyramid, set off explosions to get to the millions inside and escaped by hoisting themselves and their haul back up on rope lines.
All in 20 minutes, and all while Stockholm police were grounded by a fake bomb planted outside their own helicopter hangar.
Sweden has had its share of high-profile heists against cash storage facilities, post offices and armored cars in recent years, but police said Wednesday’s commando-style robbery was the first to use a helicopter.
“There are about 100 hardcore criminals in this country who have specialized in this type of serious robbery,” said Jerzy Sarnecki, professor in criminology at Stockholm University. “They are definitely no amateurs.”
He said every successful heist inspires others to follow suit, which explains why they have become relatively frequent in Sweden.
“When you have a group of people doing these things, others are inspired by them,” Sarnecki said.
A nationwide manhunt was launched for the suspects. Investigators believed at least 10 professional outlaws were involved.
“These are people who most likely have committed similar crimes before,” police spokesman Ulf Goranzon said. “We have naturally activated police throughout Sweden as much as possible, especially when it comes to border controls: airports, bridges and ferries.”
The company that owns the high-security facility, G4S PLC, said the thieves made off with “an unconfirmed sum of money” and added it would offer a large reward for information leading to their arrest and the return of the loot. The company did not give an exact amount for the reward.
Britain-based G4S PLC is one of the world’s largest security companies. The Vastberga facility stores cash that is transported to banks and other businesses in Sweden. G4s declined to say how much money was in the cash depot when it was attacked.
Swedish criminologist Leif G. W. Persson told Swedish news agency TT that there normally would have been about 1 billion kronor ($150 million) stored there.
The attack could lead to ATMs in the Stockholm area running out of cash, said Dick Malmlund, head of security at the Swedish Trade Federation.
“They account for a large part of the cash supply. If a facility like that is disabled … we don’t have a lot of reserve capacity,” Malmlund told the news agency.
Persson said the robbers likely got help from a current or former employee.
“You always need an insider in this kind of crime,” Persson told TT.
Two men were detained for questioning in Stockholm later Wednesday in connection with the robbery, but police stressed it wasn’t clear if, or how, they were involved.
“They are suspected of handling stolen goods,” police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said.
The helicopter swooped down on the depot shortly after 5 a.m. and hovered there while the team of robbers did their work. Investigators said they wore masks and were believed to have carried automatic weapons along with explosives. Witnesses reported hearing loud bangs.
“What we know is that they forced down some kind of wall to get in,” police spokesman Christian Agdur said. “We don’t want to comment on how they did it.”
There were 21 staff members inside the building during the heist, but no one was injured, police said.
A police commando team was seen trying to enter the cash depot in the Vastberga neighborhood with a battering ram.
Police later found an abandoned helicopter near a lake north of Stockholm, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the cash depot. Police spokeswoman Towe Hagg said the chopper was reported stolen and was believed to be the one used by the robbers.
Sweden has seen a series of spectacular robberies in recent years. Last year a group of men broke into a mail processing center in Goteborg, paralyzing large parts of Sweden’s second-largest city after spreading out spikes, burning out cars in different areas and leaving suspected explosive devices in the center.
In 2006, Goteborg’s international airport was partially closed after masked men crashed through a gate and held up luggage handlers as they were unloading crates of foreign currency worth $1.1 million from a passenger aircraft.
Four years earlier, robbers pulled off a similar heist at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, when staff were loading foreign currency worth 43 million kronor ($6.3 million) onto an aircraft.