[ISN] Robbers' quandary: Getting rid of the cash
isn at c4i.org
Thu Dec 23 04:15:25 EST 2004
By Gavin Stamp
BBC News business reporter
22 December, 2004
Pulling off one of the largest and most daring cash robberies of all
time is one thing.
Disposing successfully of the loot and enjoying the benefits is
For the criminals who have made off with more than £20m from the
headquarters of Northern Bank in Belfast, the problems may only just
Firstly, they will have to contend with the huge worldwide publicity
that their heist has generated.
Police in the United Kingdom and across Europe will be hot on their
trail while shopkeepers from Ballymena to Brighton will be alert to
any large or unusual purchases for the next few weeks.
Secondly, the sheer size of the robbers' hoard could turn out to be a
millstone around their necks.
Getting rid of £20m without causing huge suspicion is likely to tax
even the most resourceful and determined of criminal minds.
Not only do the stolen notes each have their own serial number, making
them easy to identify but the majority are denominated in Northern
Although this is accepted throughout the United Kingdom, far fewer
notes of this type tend to be in circulation outside Northern Ireland,
making any effort to disperse them in England more risky.
"They have a massive headache," says John Horan, a money laundering
expert with accountants Harbinson Mulholland. "To some extent, they
have been the victims of their own success."
Furthermore, the laws governing reporting of suspicious money flows
have been tightened up over the past two years, making it far harder
for the criminals to discreetly invest their loot in a piece of real
estate or an Old Master.
While banks have always had a legal responsibility to report
suspicions of potential money laundering, the Proceeds of Crime Act
passed in 2003 has extended this obligation to a whole raft of
businesses and professionals.
"If they're thinking of buying property, that's a bad idea because
property developers, estate agents and conveyancing lawyers are
regulated and all have an obligation to report their suspicions," says
"Thinking of buying a Matisse or a nice Rembrandt? That's a bad idea
too because high value dealers such as auction houses are also
The robbers still have a number of options, money laundering experts
agree, although they are limited.
If they plan to keep the money within the United Kingdom without
resorting to burying it, setting up a front company is the most likely
"They can set up a fake company which can be used to nominally provide
services and invoices for those services," says Trevor Mascarenhas, a
partner at Phillipsohn Crawfords Berwald, a law firm specialising in
fraud and money laundering.
"They can then take the cash and put it through the system, paying tax
on what they purport to provide and try to legitimise the money."
To do this successfully, says Mr Horan, they would need the assistance
of an expert money launderer who would expect to take a major cut of
More likely, however, is that the robbers will attempt to smuggle the
money out of United Kingdom in multiple consignments so as not to
jeopardise the entire haul.
Drug laundering organisations in South America and Russian criminal
gangs operating across Europe may provide a ready conduit for the
money, channelling it through it banks willing not to ask too many
According to Ian Hopkins, a senior consultant with corporate
investigators Carratu International, Colombia is one destination the
robbers may consider.
"There are places like that which are not too concerned where the
money comes from. There are banks which will take their 2% to 3% and
deal with the rest of the money."
The money could even ultimately find its way back into the British
economy through offshore businesses and accounts.
Whatever the fate of the money, most experts believe the robbers may
have taken on more than they can chew.
"I would be very surprised if they expected to steal £20m," says Mr
Hopkins. "It is like the Great Train Robbery. They are likely to be
surprised and not a little panicked about how much they have got."
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