The Gold Diggers - Paulo Sergio Bank Robbery
What was seen by many as a perfect, victimless crime, turned out to be something that included kidnap, murder and Mafia links, also claiming to be the world’s biggest bank robbery worth 164.7m reais (£40m).
On the Monday of the 8th of August 2005, around 8:30 am, the forensics department of the federal police bureau in a Brazilian city called Fortaleza received a phone call stating that a robbery had taken place at the local central bank which the officers believed to be some silly interruption to their morning coffee. But after they reached the crime scene they realized that it was something serious, where thieves had broken into the bank’s vault and stolen a large amount of money without being detected and without triggering any alarm systems. The vault had been full of money with brand new notes ready for release and also old notes that had been withdrawn for incineration. The weekend robbery was discovered only after bank employees came to work on Monday.
The thieves had robbed the old notes, the serial numbers of which the bank kept no record of, hence were untraceable. The gang took 3.5 tonnes worth of banknotes and carried it unnoticed through the front door of Sergio's business based in a house in the city's business district. It was believed to be a total value of 164.7m reais (£40m) for which the thieves could be executed for committing the world’s biggest robbery. Police are not sure how the robbers broke through the vault's one-metre thick iron and cement floor.
To commit this theft, the gang dug an 80 metre tunnel, paneled it with wood, and fitted it with electrical lighting and basic air conditioning. From the house, the thieves (between 10 and 20) dug four metres down and then tunneled for three months under Dom Manoel Avenue to reach the floor of the bank's 500-square-metre vault. Their final task was to drill through a metre of steel reinforced concrete. The entrance to the tunnel was in a building, which was a block away from a bank. This building claimed to be running a business selling artificial grass. But in reality, it was a façade by the gang to hide their real purpose. They were creating delusion by distributing free promotional baseball caps and taking out adverts.
Gold Diggers: World's Biggest Bank Robbery
After running away from the building, the gang had covered the room from which they worked, with white powder to make fingerprinting difficult. The only identity left with the police was the copy of his identification card that he had submitted to rent the building, which had the name as Paulo Sergio de Souza with his photograph on. The local people identified him as Paulo Sergio and he became a hero among the locals who gave the criminals a toast calling it a perfect "victimless" crime. He was also recognised as a very friendly person who loved gardening. But for Brazil's police, he is the biggest bank robber in the history of South America who set up a landscaping business called Grama Sintetica (Synthetic Grass) to hide the fact that his gang was digging a tunnel into a bank vault full of money.
By late November 2005, thirteen suspects had been arrested and about 11 percent of the stolen money was recovered. The man who was suspected of underwriting the crime, a drug dealer called Luiz Fernando Ribeiro had been kidnapped and murdered (possibly by corrupt policemen). But the identity of Paulo Sergio remained a secret. The thieves never used any weapons while committing the crime, but after investigation started things turned dark.
Two months after the robbery, on the 8th of October 2005, 26-year-old Luiz Fernando Ribeiro was kidnapped outside a nightclub in Sao Paulo. After a few hours, the key defense lawyer Marcio, received a panic call from Fernando’s family; they had received a ransom demand, and asked him to act as a negotiator. Marcio met the kidnappers at a petrol station, where he was allowed to speak to Fernando over the radio before he handed over more than £246,000. The kidnappers left promising that Fernando would arrive later, but he never returned.
Losing all the hope, Fernando’s family went to the police and opened up the story behind the robbery. They informed the police that Fernando had been kidnapped because he helped finance the central bank thieves and in return received many millions. Further investigation proved that Fernando was a drug trafficker and killer. Thirteen days later Fernando’s body was found in farmland several miles away from Sao Paulo. He was shot dead by the kidnappers who on further investigation were found to be two police officers, who were arrested for alleged kidnapping. Marcio was very nervous.
Fortaleza is a beautiful city with spectacular beaches and sunny weather, while its nights were still beautiful, but also with huge sex tourism problem. The crime scene is a tall brown glass skyscraper which is situated in the commercial district of the city. It is one of the nine regional offices of the Banco Central do Brasil which controls the flow and supply of money within the economy. People talked about this as a victimless crime, because the stolen money had already been withdrawn from circulation, while the bank was embarrassed and refused to comment. The bank also wondered if the robbers had any internal help since the cameras and motion detectors inside the vault did not work.
But next door to the artificial grass business, where the thieves were operating, there was seedy hotel whose owner was Marcos. When Marcos was interviewed, he informed that a guy called Paulo Sergio came in a van one day and that place stayed closed for 15 days. He has then brought workers and has put up awning and opened the artificial lawn business. Marcos went up the staircase of his hotel that leads to the roof and from the neighboring building pulled slate tiles and through the beams, bags of earth could be seen stacked on top of the other. He also said that Paulo Sergio was very friendly to everyone and had once told him that he was doing some work at the central bank. But Marcos did not doubt anything. Also the rear balcony had a clear view of the central bank.
Authorities found many dusty clothes in one of the rooms in Sergio's house. In another room they found bags filled with dirt, while the patio was filled with used blades from metal-cutting power-saws. The house’s refrigerator was loaded with meat, cheese and vegetables.and several packs of pasta were left in the kitchen. This makes it believe that the group had finished the tunnel well ahead of their schedule
Sergio’s house, located at 1071 Rua 25 de Marco, has become a local attraction in Fortaleza. Curious Brazilians visit the home and think deeply on the money's whereabouts. Pedro Alexandro, who works in a bar near Grama remembered seeing Sergio look for a cab on Saturday morning with a package in one hand and a bag in the other that he carried with the help of another person. Chagas Souza, who cares for one of the parking lots, said he was a good person who knew everyone here and had come to open a branch in Fortaleza.
The crime team from Fortaleza's O Povo newspaper made a number of discoveries in this case ahead of the police, which include discovering the house where the stolen money had been divided. 13 men are on trial for their part in the crime though none of the leaders have yet been detained. Six of them including a career criminal Davi da Silva were caught red handed with the stolen money.
Da Silva an expert in tunneling, had been involved in the biggest jailbreak in brazilian history when 108 men escaped through a tunnel from Carandiru penitentiary a notorious prison in Sao Paulo. Da silva at the time of his escape was serving sentences totalling up to 80 years. He hired 2 lawyers for his defense of whom one was Leandro Vasques a young advocate with curious arguments for the defense. He says it is very easy to hold anyone responsible for the theft. But he questioned about the security arrangements the central bank contributed to its success. He claims, if culprits could dig an 80 metre tunnel to gain access to the bank’s vault, then the poor alarm systems can only make the thieves less guilty.
The hypothesis of the media is that the crime was not organized or master minded by a gang of rogues, but by the leaders of Brazil's most powerful mafia organization the PCC (Premeiro Comando da Capital), because several arrested men were members of the PCC. The most important activity of the PCC is drug trafficking with little bits of kidnapping and murder. The founder of PCC is a man nicknamed Gelia, who said that the gang received a share of the transactions of big crimes.
Gelia has spent most of his life behind bars, while he is now in Brazil’s highest security jail. He has killed many men in jail and has also committed violent crimes. He uses PCC’s power to fight for improved prison conditions. He quit PCC in a dispute in 2002 and is now planning to write a book on his life. Gelia comments that no one would rob a bank and not make a contribution to the PCC. He knows nothing about Paulo Sergio who is the mastermind of this crime. Gelia wishes police do not catch Paulo Sergio, because he deserves to enjoy his life with that money. Journalists from O Povo said that the 164 million could not be divided among the participants in any way.
"The logic of the crime is capitalist, what you take in one robbery is to finance another robbery, and so it gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger."