Thursday 22 March 2018

Tiger gang planned to net €20m in 'biggest cash robbery in history of State'

WEAPONS DRAWN: Members of the elite ERU approach a GSLS security cash-in-transit van in the cargo area of Dublin Airport in the midst of a tiger kidnapping last week
WEAPONS DRAWN: Members of the elite ERU approach a GSLS security cash-in-transit van in the cargo area of Dublin Airport in the midst of a tiger kidnapping last week

Paul Williams and Jim Cusack

'Spooked' raiders narrowly escaped with 'only' €225k from security van.

The gang behind the Dublin Airport heist last week was planning the biggest cash robbery in the history of the State, it can be revealed.

They had hoped to grab up to Stg£14m (€19.4m) in cash that was scheduled to be collected by the security van driver whose family were being held hostage, it emerged last night.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that the cash was to be picked up by the GSLS cash-in-transit driver from a London flight after he delivered €225,000 for ATM machines at the airport.

The huge consignment of sterling was one of the two regular weekly deliveries from the UK which are then distributed to Irish banks for currency exchange.

The driver was due to rendezvous with the crew of a second GSLS van at the airport and collect the money from the plane on the tarmac before being transported to the company's cash holding centre in Ballymount on the return journey.

It would have been the biggest robbery in the Republic and the second biggest in Irish history - after the IRA's December 2004 £28m (€38.8m) robbery at the Northern Bank in Belfast.

The elaborate and violent operation by the Dublin gang was abandoned at the last minute when the kidnappers "got spooked" that gardai had been alerted, security sources have now revealed.

Instead they opted to cut their losses and instructed the terrified security worker to hand over the €225,000 to a raider who was waiting close by in a white box-type Ford Transit van in the Corballis Road Business Park at the rear of the airport.

It is understood that gardai have established that the sterling delivery was the intended target of the gang which is headed by a notorious 37-year-old thug who has already masterminded up to a dozen tiger robberies over the past decade.

The discovery has sparked a hunt for a mole who had "rock solid" inside knowledge of the security company's operation, sources said last night.

It is also understood that there have been a number of major security alerts surrounding the movement of cash to and from the airport in recent years.

A garda intelligence report had warned of a plan to pull off a heist at the airport in the past six months but at the time it was unknown who was behind the plot.

Meanwhile, the terrified security worker has told gardai that the raiders had in-depth knowledge of his personal life, his movements and the deliveries he was rostered to make for the company.

"He was told intimate details of his personal life and even when, and where, he did his shopping … the gang knew everything about his work deliveries which showed that he had been under intensive surveillance probably for months," a security source said.

"It also clearly points to the fact that the gang have someone working on the inside either at the airport or the security company and that will be a major line of enquiry," he added.

The terrifying ordeal began around 8pm on Wednesday night when up to three armed and masked men burst into the security employee's home on Gracefield Road in Artane.

The security employee and his partner, both of whom are in their 50s, and an adult daughter were held at gunpoint and told they would not be harmed if they co-operated.

Throughout the night the cash-in-transit driver was given intimate details of his private life to convince him that he had no choice but do what he was instructed to do.

The gang members were "forensically aware" throughout and wiped everything they touched with bleach to avoid leaving any DNA evidence.

At 5 am the man's wife and daughter were bound and gagged and taken away in a white or silver VW Caddy Van which was eventually discovered by a pedestrian parked in an estate in Dunboyne, Co Meath.

In the meantime the security driver was given a mobile phone and instructed to go to his work as normal.

The man collected the security van, which had been loaded with the cash for the ATMs, and drove to the airport.

However, by the time the security van arrived at the airport security sources said that the gang had become spooked and decided to cut their losses.

Experienced detectives who have been involved in investigating the phenomenon of tiger kidnappings, which first began in the mid-Noughties, say that the modus operandi has all the hallmarks of the prime suspect.

The criminal mastermind, who underwent specialist training in Eastern Europe several years ago, has pulled off up to 12 other similar robberies where security company workers and bank staff were targeted.

The gangster plans the terrifying crimes down to the finest detail and normally uses a network of informants to glean information about his various targets.

In 2010 he was arrested in connection with two tiger raids where the gang got away with €400,000.

At the time gardai discovered that the gangster was using a specially adapted van, with blacked-out windows and specialist surveillance equipment, to stalk his victims.

At the time he told detectives that he had been using the van to watch his wife before they got married to establish if she was having an affair.

However gardai were unable to charge him as there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had used the van for the tiger raids.

In each of the robberies he organised the bank officials and security workers were given mobile phones which were modified so the gang could monitor what their victims were saying.

The tiger gang also gave the victims bags for the cash which were lined with aluminium to prevent any hidden bugs transmitting their whereabouts. The tiger boss was subsequently charged with a robbery and placed in custody for a period of several months. He was subsequently released after being acquitted.

However the pressure from the gardai did force him to maintain a low profile which explains the drop in tiger kidnaps over the past five years.

But his possible re- emergence is a worrying development. In an ironic twist the location where the security employee's wife and daughter were found is not far from the mastermind's luxury home. A second major suspect for the kidnapping is the leader of a north-Dublin tiger kidnap gang who has been linked to several such robberies in the past decade.

Several years ago the violent armed robber was known to have been plotting to stage a dramatic robbery at Dublin airport but never progressed the plan. Security companies including GSLS were targeted during the Celtic Tiger era as a means of raising cash for drugs deals.

Sunday Independent

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