Robbers in Argentina Tunnel into Bank, Loot Safety Deposit Boxes

Argentine thieves pull off New Year's heist that seems ready for Hollywood.

January 4, 2011, 12:35 PM

Jan. 4, 2010— -- In a heist that seems ripped from a Hollywood movie, thieves in Argentina tunneled into a bank on New Year's Eve, looting some 140 safe deposit boxes from the vault.

The bank robbers entered the vault of a branch of Banco Provincia in Buenos Aires through a 100-foot tunnel that connected to a nearby building, authorities said. The tunnel reportedly included ventilation, lighting, even carpeting.

At least three thieves snuck through the tunnel on New Year's Eve while the bank was closed, and spent the weekend collecting their loot, authorities said. Bank security cameras reportedly recorded images of the suspects leaving with money and other stolen property, lifted from roughly 10 percent of the bank's safety deposit boxes.

"It was a really impressive job," said prosecutor Martin Niklison.

The bank itself doesn't even know the true value of the lost property, as customers don't have to declare the contents of their safety deposit boxes.

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The caper took months to pull off, Niklison said, with the thieves renting the building near the bank in June 2010. Safe deposit boxes are a frequent target for thieves in Argentina because many people prefer them over bank accounts to house savings, following the country's 2001 financial crisis.

Bank officials didn't discover the robbery until they opened the vault Monday morning. Later in the day, hundreds of clients had gathered near the bank in protest, demanding that their savings be recovered and returned.

The story brings to mind Hollywood films, such as the 2008 thriller "The Bank Job," which was itself based on a actual tunnel robbery in England in 1971. But it's hardly the first time that South American thieves have turned to tunneling.

In 2006, tunneling robbers snared safety deposit boxes and cash worth an estimated $25 million to $70 million, according to the Washington Post. In 2005, robbers reportedly stole $68 million from a Brazilian bank with the help of a 260-foot tunnel that connected a house with a bank vault.

Bank Seeks to Assure Its Safe Deposit Box Holders

Today, bank officials hoped to reassure clients that their valuables will be safe.

"The message we want to give is that we are going to protect their interests after this incident," said bank vice president Gustavo Marangoni on Argentine television.

If history's any guide, the key to better security may just be tougher floors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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