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Armed robberies Why is Switzerland a target for cash truck heists?

A burned out money truck at Daillens in canton Vaud

The criminals robbed a money van at Daillens, north of Lausanne, at around 7.40pm on Monday December 2. They threatened the driver at gunpoint and then set light to three vehicles before fleeing the scene.

(Keystone / Laurent Gillieron)

Western Switzerland has seen nearly a dozen violent money truck heists since 2006, and three since the beginning of this year. Who’s behind the violence and what’s being done?

At around 7.40pm on December 2, 2019 residents in the French-speaking village of Daillens, 10km north of Lausanne, witnessed two vehicles blocking the path of a money delivery van. Several people got out of the vehicles, threatened the van driver and colleague with guns, stole their load and set fire to three vehicles before driving off.

“We were sitting down to eat when we heard a loud explosion and saw a flash,” a Daillens resident told Swiss Public Television, SRFexternal link. He and his sister thought it was an accident and were almost at the scene to offer help when they realised it was a robbery and called the police.

It’s the latest in a string of night-time robberies of cash delivery vehicles in canton Vaud in western Switzerland. There have been 11 such attacks since 2006, several of which have been violent, with the assailants shooting at and beating up the van drivers in some cases.

An investigation into the Daillens incident is still ongoing but the police believe the attacks are mostly perpetrated by organised gangs from neighbouring France.

“In general, such attacks are committed by criminals from Lyon in France or by travellers,” Vaud cantonal police spokesperson Jean-Christophe Sauterel told SRF.

Easy targets?

Olivier Feller, a canton Vaud parliamentarian from the centre-right Radical party, believes the money transport vehicles are easy targets because they tend to be ordinary vans instead of heavy armoured trucks. Money transport is generally done at night for security reasons, and Swiss law states that vehicles heavier than 3.5 tons – which includes many armoured trucks – may not drive overnight or on Sundays due to strict noise regulations.

Feller has filed a motionexternal link in parliament to make a legal exception for money transport vehicles from the overnight ban. However, the Federal Council (Swiss executive branch) recommended against the  motion on the grounds that “armoured lorries weighing less than 3.5 tons are available on the market” and that “it is therefore not necessary to provide for a new exception to the ban on Sunday and night driving, especially since it would run counter to the objective of protecting the population from the harmful effects of noise”.

Not sitting around

However, Vaud officials, under pressure from residents, cannot wait any longer for further discussions in Bern.

“These attacks are shocking and dramatic. They’re shocking for the population, for the lorry drivers, and for public safety. Now it’s up to politicians to take urgent action,” Béatrice Métraux, the Vaud minister in charge of security, told Swiss Public Television (RTS)external link.

On Wednesday she presented a plan of action to Vaud ministers for approval, which contains measures that she hopes will dissuade criminals. These include ensuring that security firms only use heavily armoured vehicles to transport money and other valuables, that a limit is placed on the value of articles transported and that all valuables are automatically destroyed in the vehicle in the event of a hold-up.

Métraux says police patrols are also being strengthened in canton Vaud and at the border. Meetings are planned with security firms active in the region to discuss the proposals.

Hub

Observers say the crux of the problem is that canton Vaud has become a hub for money transporter companies but that in Switzerland their activities are not properly regulated, unlike in neighbouring countries like France.

Métraux acknowledged that the canton had become a popular place for security firms – and criminals – and it was therefore urgent to act quickly.

“Vaud is the largest canton [by population in French-speaking Switzerland] and all the roads that cross French-speaking Switzerland pass through it. It is therefore also an attractive location for companies that come to settle there,” she told swissinfo.ch.

“It also seems obvious that Switzerland is becoming a privileged target since the surrounding countries have taken measures, which Switzerland has not done. It is for this reason that the Vaud government considers it urgent to act today to guarantee public safety.”

Thunstetten heist

Thieves stole more than CHF4.5 million from a money van on July 1 in Thunstetten, canton Bern, the Federal Court reported on Fridayexternal link.

The heist allegedly occurred with the complicity of the van driver, who admitted helping thieves transfer the money to another vehicle. The driver was arrested on August 14 and placed in pre-trial detention for three months at the request of Solothurn Attorney General's Office. The Federal Court confirmed on Friday that the man must remain in pre-trial detention until February 2020.

Meanwhile, an investigation continues into the theft focusing on six people. The money has still not been found. But the driver and his alleged accomplice, who is in detention in the Czech Republic, are suspected of having given the money to a third person. A separate investigation into individuals who allegedly concealed the stolen money also continues.

end of infobox

SRF/RTS/swissinfo

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