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Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza

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The Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza was a burglary of the Banco Central in Fortaleza, a city in northeastern Brazil. It is one of the world's largest burglaries, along with the 1987 Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery in London.

The burglary

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On the weekend of August 6, 2005 and August 7, 2005 a gang of burglars tunneled into the Banco Central in Fortaleza. They removed five containers of 50-real notes, with an estimated value of R$164,755,150 (as on December, 2009 US$94.3 million) and weighing about 3.5 tons. The money was uninsured; a bank spokeswoman stated that the risks were too small to justify the insurance premiums. The burglars managed to evade or disable the bank's internal alarms and sensors; the burglary remained undiscovered until the bank opened for business on the morning of Monday, August 8, 2005.

The Banco Central is a national banking institution charged with control of the money supply. The money in the vault was being examined to see if it should be recirculated or destroyed. The bills were not numbered sequentially, making them almost impossible to trace.

Three months earlier, the gang of burglars had rented an empty property in the centre of the city and then tunneled 78 meters (256 ft) beneath two city blocks to a position beneath the bank. The gang had renovated a house and put up a sign indicating it was a landscaping company selling both natural and artificial grass as well as plants. Neighbours, who estimated that the gang consisted of between six and ten men, described how they had seen van-loads of soil being removed daily, but understood this to be a normal activity of the business. The tunnel, being roughly 70 cm (2.3 ft) square and running 4 meters (13 ft) beneath the surface, was well-constructed: it was lined with wood and plastic and had its own lighting and air conditioning systems.

On the final weekend, the gang broke through 1.1 meters (3.6 ft) of steel-reinforced concrete to enter the bank vault. The bank notes weighed approximately 3,500 kg (approx. 7,700 lbs) and would have required a considerable amount of time and effort to remove.


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"They worked for several months", police said, "The gardening company was working since March. They had sophisticated equipment, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and experts in math, engineering and excavation."

Police located a pick-up truck branded with a Grama Sintética (Synthetic Lawns) logo found at the rented house. Bolt cutters, a blow torch, an electric saw and other tools used to penetrate the concrete barrier were found both inside the vault and within the empty property. The house was covered in burnt lime powder to make locating fingerprints difficult.

The Brazilian Federal Police are investigating a possible connection between the burglars and car resellers in Fortaleza. On August 10, 2005 the Military Police of Minas Gerais arrested two men driving a truck car transporter in Sete Lagoas, a city located near Belo Horizonte, 2005. More than $2.13 million in cash was recovered in three pickup trucks found on that vehicle transporter.

Five men were arrested September 28, 2005 with about $5.22 million of the money and told the police they had helped dig the tunnel. Eighteen suspects remain at large. Prosecutors have said the group tried unsuccessfully to charter a small plane days before the robbery to use it to escape and move the money out of the country.

On October 20, 2005 the body of the one of the alleged masterminds, Luis Fernando Ribeiro, 26, was found on an isolated road near Camanducaia, 200 miles (320 km) west of Rio de Janeiro. He had been shot seven times and had marks on his wrists as if he had been handcuffed. "It was definitely because of the robbery," according to a police official of Minas Gerais State who identified himself only as Corporal Leonino.

Mr. Ribeiro fled from Fortaleza to São Paulo after the robbery. He was kidnapped on October 7, 2005, and although his family paid $893,600 in ransom, he was not freed. There were signs that police officers have been involved in the kidnapping and killing. Recently three policemen have been arrested in connection with the slaying.

On October 28, 2005 a person linked to a former security guard involved in the burglary was arrested with $85,100.

On November 10, 2005 Brazilian authorities have arrested three more men suspected.

From October 22, 2005 until April 13, 2006 the Brazilian's police discovered six kidnappings related to this robbery and in all cases the relatives of the victims paid the ransom for the victims' release.

On August 1, 2006 Brazilian authorities found $178,100 buried underground at a house in Natal.

A prepaid phone card was found in the Fortaleza's tunnel. The Brazilian Federal Police located the cell phone associate with it and afterward all the calls from that phone were monitored. On September 1, 2006 a special operation named "Facção Topeira" was started, leading the police to arrest 43 people suspected of the robbery including one of the alleged masterminds, and recovering $275,100 in cash.

On October 3, 2006 the body of another suspect, Evandro José das Neves, was found at a shanty town in São Paulo.

On January 28, 2007 Brazilian authorities arrested Márcio Rafael Pierre in São Paulo, one of the alleged masterminds of the burglary. Three months later in São Paulo, on April 19, 2007, a suspect named Edson Pereira de Queiroz was arrested.

So far, authorities have recovered more than $8.93 million, while the remaining is still unaccounted for.

See also

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  • Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery — a robbery of similar magnitude, also valued at around $68 million.
  • List of bank robbers and robberies

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