Detectives in Antwerp have been searching the sewers under the Belgian city for clues after burglars apparently used them to break into a bank before fleeing without trace, in a criminal caper fit for the big screen. An initial investigation suggests the thieves started out in a building opposite the BNP Paribas Fortis bank in…
Detectives in Antwerp have been searching the sewers under the Belgian city for clues after burglars apparently used them to break into a bank before fleeing without trace, in a criminal caper fit for the big screen.
An initial investigation suggests the thieves started out in a building opposite the BNP Paribas Fortis bank in the early hours of Sunday morning. They then dug a tunnel 4 metres (13ft) long to connect with a sewage pipe running under the road.
From there it seems the burglars crawled through the pipe – said to have a 40cm diameter – before digging another 4-metre tunnel and emerging among the bank’s vaults.
The first the police knew of the heist was when the bank’s security firm sounded the alarm on Sunday afternoon.
Willem Migom, a spokesman for Antwerp police, said: “A tunnel to the sewer system has been found. We first had measurements carried out on gas to see if it was safe to descend into it. In the sewerage we then found a second tunnel that led to a building in the Nerviërsstraat.”
BNP Paribas has declined to comment on the size of the burglars’ haul. A number of the bank’s vaults are said to have been opened. A building opposite the bank on Nerviërsstraat was raided by police on Sunday. One unnamed person was taken in for questioning.
The first the residents of the central Antwerp district knew of the incident was when police raised all the manhole covers running down the centre of Nerviërsstraat on Sunday afternoon.
One woman in an adjacent street told Het Nieuwsblad she had heard “a lot of banging” from the neighbours in the past few days.
The newspaper likened the crime to theinfamous 1976 Ocean’s Eleven-style bank robberywhen 13 people used the sewers to break into the vaults of the Société Générale bank in central Nice. That gang cleared 370 coffers of gold ingots, cash and jewellery valued at 50m francs – about £24m today – before fleeing just in time to escape the rising sewage that was flooding the bank.
Roger Moorthamer, a spokesman for the federal police, said: “We have no idea at the moment who the perpetrators are.”
Els Liekens, of the engineering company Aquafin, told Het Laatste Nieuws the robbery had been extremely risky. “When it starts to rain, rainwater enters the sewers and can fill up very quickly, which can lead to drowning if you are there,” she said.