A 27-year-old man has been arrested in connection with a spectacular bank robbery at the weekend in Antwerp. The robbery took place in the safe-deposit room of the branch of BNP Paribas Fortis on the Belgiëlei on Sunday, while the branch was closed. The thieves had clearly been planning the robbery well in advance. The approach to the bank involved entering the sewers via a manhole (photo), digging a tunnel underground equipped with wooden supports and electric lighting, then coming through a wall into the safe-deposit room where clients rent boxes to store their valuables and documents for safe-keeping. They escaped through another tunnel to an apartment in a nearby street, rented for the purpose.
The extent of the preparations, as well as the danger involved, has shocked investigators, and inspired the press to compare it to TV and Hollywood heists. It also calls to mind the robbery of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre in 2003, where the thieves took an estimated $100 million dollars in gems and other valuables, and were only caught as a result of the DNA on a discarded half-eaten sandwich.
The man arrested yesterday is said to be a Georgian by origin with Belgian nationality. No details were given as to his role in the robbery. He will appear in court on Friday.
Meanwhile BNP has started dealing with those clients who were renting a safe-deposit box at the branch. When the break-in was first discovered, police established a perimeter around the bank to conserve any evidence available, and the strong-room in particular was off-limits to all but forensic investigators.
Now, clients will be contacted and asked to make a declaration on their honour regarding the contents of their box. Only once that has been done by everyone will the bank reveal whose box has been forced open and emptied, and whose is still safe. Police will then be able to announce a provisional value for what was stolen.