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Don’t Bank On It

Publishing Date : 13 April, 2015

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE


I don’t know if any of you watched the 2008 movie starring the British actor Jason Statham and entitled The Bank Job.  The film was based on the 1971 Baker Street robbery in central London and one of its stated aims was to reveal the truth behind the robbery for the first time. 

The plot involved the British intelligence service MI5,   the notorious black gangster and erstwhile folk hero, Malcolm X as well as a member of the British Royal Family, whose reputation was said to hang on the contents, rumoured to be compromising photographs which had been placed in a safety deposit box in the bank in London’s Baker Street. 

A small-time female drug dealer was reportedly offered amnesty if she could persuade her gangster friend, played by Jason Statham, to break into the bank vaults and retrieve the box, whilst allowing him and his other gang members to help themselves to the contents of as many other boxes as they could open and rob.  The method chosen by the thieves was to rent a leather goods store called Le Sac, two doors down from the bank, then tunnel 12 metres under a fast-food restaurant in the middle before drilling through the bank walls. 

The heist was meticulously planned and carried out but partly foiled by a radio ham who picked up chatter between the robbers and their look-out, the thieves fought amongst themselves and were mostly caught, Malcolm X was hanged for the murder of his English girlfriend whom he believed had betrayed him but MI5 got what it wanted and the reputation of the royal remained intact. 

A great movie, a blend of fact and fiction but probably only scratching the surface of the fallout from the real robbery in which it was estimated that money and valuable worth about 4 million pounds, a huge sum of money in 1971, was stolen.  Even more interesting was the fact that at least 100 clients whose safety deposit boxes were emptied, never came forward to make a claim against their losses.

This last fact speaks volumes about the nature of the safety deposit box.  They are secure boxes held in the vaults of many banks and used to store whatever the client desires.  This may be perfectly legitimate – somewhere safe to store the family jewels and silver or important personal and corporate documents, for instance. 

On the other hand they might contain what one former British CID officer described on television this week as ‘ill-gotten gains’ – ‘hot’ items of stolen jewellery or large sums of money garnered from illegal operations. 

The bank asks no questions and is therefore not told any lies and with the former privacies of even the classic Swiss bank account now no longer as discreet as they once were, the anonymity of the safety deposit box remains the last bastion of the villain’s private stash.

And so as details of the daring Hatton Garden Safe Deposit theft in London over the long Easter weekend emerge it is almost déja vu all over again.  The thieves were said to have hidden inside an office in the building and waited till everything shut down for the long holiday break, after which they abseiled down the lift shaft to access the basement of the building where the boxes were held. 

Hatton Garden is an area of London known to be centre of the capital’s jewellery trade and many of the boxes were used by local shop owners and gem dealers to store some of their stock.  Many others, however, were in private hands. 

Initial estimates of the total losses was put at around 200 million pounds (P3000 million pula) but the real figure could be much higher due to the secretive nature of the box culture and their clientele and will probably, just like the Baker Street robbery, never be known. 

Flying Squad officers investigating the theft have voiced their opinion that most of the stolen jewellery will already have been shipped out of the country where identifiable pieces such are large diamonds will be re-cut and rendered unrecognisable, then quietly put up for private sale in a few months, after the current hue and cry has died down.  The daring, and long-winded heist, might even have been rumbled before it succeeded as the thieves did set off an alarm at approximately 1pm on Good Friday. 

A security guard went to investigate but finding all the doors to the building locked and no sign of forced entry or illegal activity, he took no action.  When asked later why he had not bothered to check inside, he said that would have been way above his pay scale!  As for local residents, the thieves had had the foresight to send them all letters in advance of the heist, telling them that any building noise they might hear was part of an ongoing Cross rail underground rail project.

As one of the world’s largest diamond producers, this story probably holds more than mere fascination for local readers and industry players.  It’s entirely possible that some of the stolen gems may have come from our own Kalahari diamond pipes, then have been polished and perfected in Amsterdam before being mounted in a suitable setting and sold in one of Europe’s leading jewellery stores.  And of course some of the stolen gems may also already have been stolen gems – a sort of double-jewellery-jeopardy!   

At any rate police believe the thieves knew pretty much what they were looking for in the 70 boxes they raided.  Meanwhile they are still making a detailed forensic search of the premises in an effort to uncover some clue as to the perpetrators and are remaining tight-lipped as to their findings.

As many international press reports have stated, it’s the stuff of movies.  And that movie is probably The Bank Job which is now beginning to look like the thieves’ video guide to safety deposit box theft.  What’s the betting that the producers are planning the sequel right now!

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at www.hrmc.co.bw

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