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ATM thefts leave police baffled

Police and banks are on the alert after a series of ATM thefts Keystone

A series of thefts of bank cash machines, or ATMs, over the past month has left Swiss police baffled.

This content was published on October 15, 2003 - 13:49

They’re mystified as to how the thieves managed to make off with such a huge haul – not just the money, but the dispensers too.

With the perpetrators still on the loose, police and banks have been stepping up measures to protect ATMs.

The latest robbery took place on Sunday, October 12 at a Co-op service station in Biel - the eighth such incident since mid-September.

Hole in the wall

Thieves targeted the service station at about 8.15pm and wrenched the cash machine, weighing more than 100 kilos, out of the wall before making off with it.

They are thought to have got away with more than SFr15,000 ($11.350).

Meinrad Stöcklin, spokesman for canton Basel Country police, which has suffered three such thefts, says there is a pattern to the cash machine attacks.

“The perpetrators gain access to the bank lobbies which house the ATMs in the night - there they choose a cash machine that’s not in the wall but fixed to the floor and they use a wire rope and a car to rip it out of the ground,” Stöcklin told swissinfo.

“Then they usually take it home, open it and take out the money,” he added.

There have now been eight such thefts in Switzerland – three in canton Basel Country, two in canton Bern and one each in the cantons of Fribourg, Solothurn and Thurgau.

Crisis meeting

Worried police from the five affected cantons have even held a special intercantonal meeting to tackle the problem in which they shared information and talked about the next steps in their enquiries.

But Stöcklin says the investigations are made all the more difficult because of the speed at which the thefts occur – sometimes only taking between two and three minutes – and the professionalism of the perpetrators.

“Sometimes it reminds us of a tyre change at the pit stop in a Formula One race because it’s so fast. They’re well organised and that makes police work more difficult,” said Stöcklin.

Police say there is no evidence that the thefts are the work of an organised crime gang. They are reported to have more or less ruled out a link to the so-called Omega gang, who have allegedly used ram-raid methods to rob 29 jewellers in the country since the beginning of the year and are believed to have carried out 200 attacks since 2000.

The Federal Police Office said that 40 suspects, mostly from eastern Europe, had now been arrested in connection with the ram-raids.

However, Stöcklin says the police have not yet ruled out the theory that the attacks could be the work of a gang with several subgroups working to some extent independently of each other.

A spokesman for the biggest Swiss bank, UBS, said the company had been stepping up protection for its ATM machines.

The spokesman said new measures included putting less money in the dispensers and increasing security around cash machines in isolated places.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There have been three thefts of cash dispensers in canton Basel Country, in Aesch, Frenkendorf, Gelterkinden.
Cantons Solothurn (Walterswil), Thurgau (Diessenhofen) and Fribourg (Flamatt) have reported one case each.
Canton Bern has recorded two incidents, in Biel in canton Bern on Sunday, October 12 and in Huttwil.

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