Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Thieves ignore soccer to make off with US$6 million

AP , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Thieves who spent months tunneling from a rented house to an armored car company’s safe made off with nearly US$6 million over the weekend, making their getaway as season-ending soccer matches virtually shut down Brazil, authorities said on Monday.

The heist was discovered Sunday night — hours after the games ended. Officers followed the tunnel from the company’s safe some 100m underground to a house, Sao Paulo police said in a statement.

Police said the home, abandoned when they arrived, had been occupied for about four months. Its former occupants were considered suspects, but there were no immediate arrests.

Officials with the armored car company — Transnacional Transporte de Valores e Seguranca Patrimonial — told officers that 10 million reals (US$5.9 million) were missing, the statement said.

Globo TV’s G1 Web site reported that electricity was cut off to the company’s office and some security cameras were not on when the theft happened, but authorities did not immediately confirm that.

The heist occurred on the last weekend of the soccer season, when the league championship and relegation matches had people nationwide glued to their TVs.

A security guard at the building heard a loud noise about 5pm on Sunday as the most important game was under way, but figured it was from fireworks that sports fans had been setting off throughout the afternoon, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported.

The newspaper said thieves left behind sacks of coins in the tunnel, and police found a map of the tunnel and bags of dirt in the house — presumably from the excavation. A Christmas tree inside the house was visible from outside.

Firefighters who inspected the tunnel on Monday said it was about a meter high and a a meter wide, G1 reported.

Two years ago, thieves used dynamite to blow up a safe and steal nearly US$10 million from the office of another money transport company in Sao Paulo.

In 2005, about 10 suspects tunneled under a city street and stole more than US$70 million in cash from a central bank branch in the northeastern city of Fortaleza.

It was the world’s biggest heist ever until more than US$90 million was taken from a security warehouse in London a year later.

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