Searching for Clues after One of Britain's Biggest Heists

STORY UPDATE: Police Arrest Two Following $87M Heist

Police offered a hefty reward on Thursday for information leading to the recovery of up to 43 million pounds (euro62 million or US$74 million) stolen by an armed gang during one of largest heists in British history.

Police blamed organized crime and said the heist was done with "military precision."

"We know for a fact that this is organized crime at its top level," Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Leppard told reporters.

Police issued an all-ports-alert but said they were still trying to come up with a description of the robbers, some of whom were disguised as police officers and wore masks.

Video footage was released of a white van the men used to carry the cash and said several other vehicles used in the heist were still missing. No one was injured in the robbery.

A 2 million pound (US$3.5 million) reward was offered for information leading to the recovery of the cash.

The money was stolen Wednesday from a cash center in the small market town of Tonbridge, a Bank of England spokesman said on condition of anonymity, in line with bank policy.

There was no exact figure of money stolen, but the spokesman said it could be up to 43 millions pounds.

It was not yet clear whether security cameras had been disabled during the robbery.

The heist at Securitas Cash Management Ltd. began when some of the thieves, dressed as police officers, stopped the firm's manager as he drove home Tuesday. The manager got into their car, which he believed to be a police vehicle, and was handcuffed, authorities said.

At the same time, another team of thieves went to the manager's house and persuaded his wife and young son to go with them. The manager allegedly was told to cooperate or his family would be hurt.

The thieves headed to the Tonbridge depot early Wednesday morning, where they tied up 15 employees and loaded cash into a truck, police said, adding that the robbers were in the depot for more than an hour.

The staff managed to escape about an hour later and called police.

The cash depot is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Channel Tunnel, which links England and France. Authorities were patrolling the tunnel.

The robbers will have a difficult time laundering or converting such a large amount of cash, said Peter Lilley, a money laundering expert at Britain's Proximal Consulting.

One option would be to take some of the cash to countries with looser monetary regulations where the money could be put in offshore accounts or invested on the property market over a long period of time to avoid detection, he said.

"Physical money possesses greater risk than electronic money or even gold," he said.

Lilley said that it was also possible the thieves were not aware of exactly how much money was stored at the depot and they could burn some of it to reduce the amount they need to launder.

The Bank of England's governor has asked for a review of the security arrangements for the storage of bank notes. The bank spokesman said Securitas had already reimbursed them, and there will be no cost to Britain's taxpayers.

The depot, a single-floored, windowless building, is near the center of Tonbridge, 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of London.

Located on a small industrial estate, it is surrounded by six-foot (1.80 meter) high steel fencing, and security cameras cover every entrance. Steel traps are in place to prevent unwanted vehicles entering the compound, which acts as a car park for employees. There are no signs to indicate the building stores large amounts of money.

In December 2004, a raid at the Northern Bank's Belfast headquarters netted thieves the equivalent of 26.5 million pounds (US$46.1 million) - the biggest cash theft in British history. Three men - including a former bank employee - have been charged in connection with that robbery.

Police said they believed the robbers were British but were not ruling any nationalities out.


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