Hostage-takers steal millions from N. Irish Bank
A gang held the families of two Northern Ireland bank officials hostage for 24 hours before stealing about 20 million pounds ($39 million) in one of Britain's biggest robberies, police said on Tuesday.
The employees were forced to hand over the money from a cash center at the headquarters of Northern Bank in central Belfast after close of business on Monday by raiders who had taken over their homes on Sunday night.
Northern Bank is Northern Ireland's largest retail bank and is owned by National Australia Bank.
Police said they were investigating whether one of Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups, which remain heavily involved in crime despite observing cease-fires in the province's long-running sectarian conflict, had been involved in the raid.
"Clearly this is a well-organized crime, there's absolutely no doubt about that," said Kinkaid.
"Whether it is in any way associated with paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, we haven't sufficient information for us to make any assessment on that at present."
Britain's biggest robbery was a 1987 break-in at a safe deposit center in London when 60 million pounds was stolen. In 1983, 26 million pounds was taken in a raid on a Brinks-Mat vault at London's Heathrow airport.
National Australia Bank said in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange about 20 million pounds was stolen.
"The theft is covered by self-insurance, and as such, National Australia Bank ... will bear the impact of any losses arising from the theft," it said.
Northern Bank has 95 branches in the British-ruled province.
Earlier this month, Denmark's Danske Bank agreed to buy Northern Bank and Dublin-based National Irish Bank from National Australia Bank for 10.4 billion Danish crowns ($1.87 bln).
The theft was not expected to have any material impact on the sale of the two banks to Danske, National Australia Bank said.
"Most importantly, all staff involved in the theft are safe and are receiving appropriate care and support by Northern Bank and the police in Northern Ireland," it said.
Last month, a report from an independent cease-fire monitoring body said paramilitary groups from the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities in Northern Ireland were involved in major crimes, including extortion, smuggling and bank robbery.
Paramilitaries were blamed for several high-profile robberies earlier this year, including cases that involved hostage-taking.