Marketplace Report: UK Robbery Remains Unsolved

British detectives were on the hunt today for an "armed and dangerous" gang who posed as police to steal $70 million. Airports and seaports are on full alert, but the thieves have yet to be caught. Stephen Beard of Marketplace talks with Madeleine Brand about how the robbers might spend $70 million with no one noticing.

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Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand with a juicy cops and robbers story. British police are hunting an armed gang who pulled off what looks like the biggest cash robbery in that country's history. The gang stole an estimated $80 million in cash. The heist was meticulously planned and ruthlessly executed. But, now the robbers face their biggest challenge, how to spend the money without getting caught. Joining us from the Marketplace London bureau is Stephen Beard, and Stephen, first of all, who did the robbers rob?

Mr. STEPHEN BEARD (Reporter, Marketplace, Public Radio): The taxpayer, I'm afraid to say. It was money that Britain's central bank had stored in a supposedly secure depot for distribution. The exact sum, by the way, that was stolen, isn't known yet. The orders says will only be allowed in to count what's missing after the police have gathered all their forensic evidence.

BRAND: Now, this was at a supposedly secure depot. How did they get in?

Mr. BEARD: By posing as police. They stopped the depot manager in his car on the freeway, kidnapped him and later, kidnapped his wife and young son, threatened them at gunpoint and then got the manager to get them into the depot. No one was hurt physically but it seems everyone involved was deeply traumatized except, of course, the robbers.

BRAND: Well, they may be traumatized now because they have a problem disposing of this cash.

Mr. BEARD: They certainly do, and this could be a major headache, just hiding it isn't gonna be easy. Jeffrey Robinson is an expert on money laundering and financial crime. He says the sheer physical size of this hole in British currency could be around 40 million pounds. The size of it is amazing!

Mr. JEFFREY ROBINSON (Money Laundering and Fraud Expert): Forty million in 50 pound notes is 800,000 pieces of paper. It would stack from end to end about the same size as a 35-story building and would weigh 900 pounds. It's huge and there's a real bulk problem in moving it and keeping it secure.

Mr. BEARD: Spending it inconspicuously is gonna be difficult too. Incidentally, we still don't whether the police have the serial numbers of all the used notes, whether they're going to be traceable.

BRAND: And so, they might have some problems laundering this much money, actually getting it into the banking system.

Mr. BEARD: Yes, they certainly will. I mean, since 9/11 and the crackdown on the financing of terrorism, there's been a lot more monitoring of cash flows in even relatively small sums like $10,000 going into the system are reported to the authorities.

BRAND: And do the police have any leads?

Mr. BEARD: None that they're talking about publicly. Off the record they say there must be the possibility that there was inside information here, but they do point out that there's very few gangs in Britain that could pull off a job like this, so the police will be watching the usual suspects more closely than usual.

BRAND: Well, it sounds like something made out of Hollywood, maybe a future George Clooney movie. Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show, Marketplace, and Marketplace is produced by American Public Media.

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