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Top 10 Biggest Unsolved Heists in History

Crime is not always the best method to use when you want to get rich quickly, but not everyone holds the same position on this. While pulling off the perfect heist is the imagination of many individuals around the world, some criminals actualize these dreams putting entire economies in jeopardy. The volume of money stolen and the methods used sometimes set so much shame to the custodians that they get embarrassed to admit it. The sad truth is that government officials and bank employees sometimes end up being implicated in some of these shocking crimes making the process of getting justice more difficult. Of the thousands of robberies around the world, these are the ten most embarrassing heists that even governments with the best intelligence services have never been able to solve.

Bangladesh Bank Hack, New York 2016

It is the largest heist in history and the miracle hack of the 21st century. The group of hackers infiltrated the bank’s system and ordered a transfer of up to $1 billion from the Us federal reserve. They bypassed the SWIFT system used by most national banks to transact internationally; the hacks were so clinical that the hackers bypassed every level of the password without being noticed in the first transfer. A spelling error in a second request raised the alarm that prevented a transfer that would have most probably rendered Bangladesh cashless. Even with the prevention of the second transfer, the hackers had already managed to pull off the dream of every bank robber without being caught.

An FBI investigation claimed that the bank of Bangladesh employees worked together with the hackers to execute the plot. The Bangladesh authorities, on the other hand, dismissed the claim and blamed the federal reserve for not securing their money and also SWIT technicians for leaving loopholes on their system. There are claims that the real amount was more than $100m, either way, both governments denied responsibility. The Bangladeshi government would later fire the chief of the bank but still maintained that fault lay with the US government and Germany based SWIFT.[1][2]

The Dubai Black Magic Robbery, UAE 1995

Foutanga Babani Sissoko single-handedly robbed the Islamic Bank of Dubai $242m using the oldest trick in the book, money doubling. The government denied the crime and silently bailed the bank out at the expense of the investors. Sissoko told Mohammed Ayoub the bank manager that he could double the money and successfully doubled the first amount the manager gave to him. Afterward, he started transferring large sums of the bank’s money to Sissoko in accounts across the world. He also paid huge credit card bills for Sissoko believing the money would come back doubled despite his religion condemning black magic. After three years of transfers, the manager realized that Sissoko’s number was no longer going through and the bank was running out of cash. He was later arrested for embezzlement and jailed for three years while the bank started court injunctions to summon Sissoko.

Sissoko moved to New York and on the first day of his visit, walked into Citibank, opened an account and transferred over $100m from the Islamic bank and ended up marrying the teller that helped him with the transaction. The teller helped him create a good relationship with Citibank that later led to the $151m lawsuit claim by Dubai bank, but US authorities dropped the case. Sissoko attempted to buy military helicopters and was arrested in America but later released on bail proceeding to become an untouchable MP in Mali. He is simply the robber that can never be caught, the bank has sued him many times leading to sentences in absentia but Mali has no extradition treaty with any country and Sissoko is just too powerful. Too bad for the bank investors as they had to give up their stake after the government denied the robbery and bailed the bank out.[3]

The Northern Bank Robbery, Northern Ireland 2004

It is the first bank robbery that forced a central bank to reprint its currency. The IRA was blamed for this crime that took place when armed robbers simply stormed the Northern bank in Belfast and walked away with nearly 30m sterling. It was at the peak of IRA aggression, and they were accused of the robbery by January 2005. However, the members of the IRA’s political wing denied the accusation with their leader confirming he had not given any approval for such an act. The bank later decided to print new notes in a bid to render the stolen money useless, but the IRA did not rush to launder the money as the bank had expected. Despite the political storm caused by the robbery, no member of the IRA or any other robber was accused of the crime. Wikileaks later revealed a connection between some government officials at the time and a rogue group in the IRA leading to a conclusion that the robbery was simply a move to demonize Sinn Fein, the political party that supported the IRA to prevent their entry into the government.[4][5]

Brinks Mat Warehouse Heist, UK 1983

It is the largest heist ever in UK history involving robbery of over $0.5b worth of gold and diamonds. Most of the gold was never recovered, only a few pieces of it show up here and there, but the real robbers got rich from what is termed the fool’s gold. Only 3 of the six robbers were directly implicated and imprisoned. The main story behind the robbery was that the six members of the South London gang were going for a $3m loot except they landed on a literal gold mine. They found 3 tons of gold bars stuffed in wooden boxes and carried all of it escaping through Heathrow right under the authorities’ noses. The loot in which 20 people were involved shook the gold market around the world hard. The lengthy investigations also resulted in many deaths and lots of shame to the government. At one point, a $3m withdrawal by the members of the gang forced the UK Treasury to release fresh notes. The government later connected one of the guards to the head of the group and concluded that it was an inside job. Whoever carried it out, this was an economy-crippling heist.[6][7]

Dar Es Salaam Bank Robbery, Iraq 2007

Most guards that participate in robberies are accused of abating rather than being the main culprits, well, these guards were something else. They robbed the very bank they were protecting after business hours and vanished. Iraq is no stranger to massive heists, many banks were looted during the US invasion, but just as the country was regaining its financial footing, the three guards decided to surprise the world. They carried $300m in US dollars and $176 000 in dinars. The employees came in the following day to find all the cash gone. Surprisingly, it is not usual for a bank in downtown Khaddar to have such a large amount of US currency at a time. No explanation was given as to how the guards were aware of the cash surge, but the guards walked. The government linked the guards to an armed militia group claiming they had external help, a position that is not supported by many because government armed forces guard most banks.[8]

Saddam Hussein $1bn Heist, Iraq 2003

Iraq’s central bank was looted during the US invasion, but no one stole more money than the president himself. Before American forces started firing missiles on Iraq, Saddam plotted the largest heist in history. Well, the government at the time called it a precaution against the money falling in the wrong hands. Saddam wrote a note to his son Qasim ordering the central bank manager to hand over $1bn for “safe keeping.” Being the supreme leader of Iraq at the time, this was not regarded as a robbery.

However, the money was not meant for any safekeeping; it was just a safety package for Saddam and his family. The central bank governor, as well as the guards later confirmed that the robbery, which lasted from 7 pm to midnight, involved $100 bills and 100-euro bills being loaded onto three lorries to an unknown destination. $650m was found at the state palace after Saddam’s fall but never declared as part of the loot, the whereabouts o the money remains a mystery, but the lorries are said to have headed to Syria. Well, maybe someone is keeping it safe![9]

DB Cooper, US 1971

It is the only unsolved air piracy heist in history that has turned the hijacker into some god in the criminal underworld — the mystery man that identified himself to the crew as Dan Cooper had a bomb on board with a list of demands that included $200,000 that would amount to $1.7 million today. He had no interest in harming anyone, that is if his interests were met, he ordered the FBI to refuel the plane in Seattle where he told all passengers to leave the aircraft. He remained on board with the crew after receiving the cash and ordered the pilot to fly under 10,000 feet with specific instructions including the wing flap angles. He then walked to the rear with the parachutes for himself and the money bag and leaped into the dark never to be identified. Hundreds of agents combed the flight path between Portland and Seattle, but the point of his fall or the money was never identified. Fifty years of search and profiling has never put a face to the mystery robber, most cases seem to profile a former member of the armed forces, but that is it. Maybe he fell hard and sank underground![10]

Dunbar Armored Car Robbery, LA 1997

Allan Pace was fired just a day before he robbed the Dunbar company in what would become the biggest heist in US history. The robbery took place right in the company’s vault where employees were tied up as the robbers took the money valued at $30m currently, just $18.9m at the time. Unlike the Brinks Gold robbery, this one was carried out by a former employee of the Dunbar company who knew all the trips the armored car would go. They attacked the vehicle that was meant to supply lots of $20 bill to many banks around the city.

The first suspect was identified after being linked to the wrappers of the stolen cash. He was later traced to the rental U Truck that was used to whisk off the loot forcing him to give up his comrades but not the money. As of 2018, less than half of the money has been recovered mostly the amount used to buy homes, and some they laundered in a fake waste disposal company was recovered. The government earlier cleared employees of wrongdoing but later confirmed that it was an inside job.[11][12]

The Banco Central Robbery, Brazil 2005

Crime is wrong, but the robbers of the Fortaleza branch of Brazil’s central bank were just too good. The robbers struck when the bank had received new banknotes to replace some old ones who were ready to be destroyed. They did not touch the new notes, just the old ones worth $78m making this the largest bank robbery in both Americas. The funny part is how they got to the money in the first place. They dug an 80m long tunnel from a building two blocks from the bank. They used artificial lawn business for cover to the three months of tunneling allowing them to create a perfect route with lighting and ventilation 4 meters under the street. To get through the vault, they had to break through a 1.1-meter-thick steel reinforced concrete, and the miracle is no alarms were raised. The face of the fake business was a smiley guy called Paulo Sergio who advertised the business and even gave out free baseball caps. The robbery happened over the weekend when the bank was closed allowing the robbers enough time to clear out and nicely removing any trace of their work including whitewashing the tunnel room.

They did not steal the money from anyone because the notes were no longer in circulation, but the bank had not recorded the serial numbers for these notes leaving the economy in trouble. The central bank was too embarrassed even to state the actual value of the robbery, but the damage had already been done. Police investigations had only one lead, a Paulo Sergio whom everyone in the area seemed to know but no one could put accurate details to the man. The other suspect was David da Silva who had tunneled out of Brazil’s supermax prison in 2001 with 108 convicts in Brazil’s largest ever prison break. He was arrested with the stolen cash leading to the famous comic of tunneling out of prison and tunneling back in. About eight other people were arrested for the crime, but less than 20% of the money has ever been recovered. The masterminds were never arrested leading to speculation that government officials were involved.[13]

The Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery, UK 1987

Valerio Viccei, one of Italy’s most notorious criminals of all time, brought the terror with him down to the UK at the Knightsbridge security deposit. There has never been an exact valuation of just how much he stole because not all safety deposit box owners stated the precise value of their valuables, but the authorities later declared a rough estimation of $60m. Viccei and his counterpart came as classy customers who wanted to rent a safety deposit box. They turned on the bank manager and guard once behind the security doors with guns, put on the closed sign and let in more robbers. The robbers were later arrested, but most of the valuables were never recovered. Viccei then came back to London for a priced Ferrari where he was arrested.[14]

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