Making money the right way is the hardest, it is said. Robbery and dacoity may be easy, but more often than not the criminals are apprehended and the stolen goods recovered. In case of banks, the incentive to rob or pull off a heist is high, given the high amount of wealth available, but security measures are also rather high. In cases of bank robberies and heists, however, most cases are not reported to the media for two reasons. The reports disrupt any plans made by police and security officials to apprehend the robbers. Also, in a sensitive country such as India, it is a setback for the trust-building efforts of banks to channelize funds into mainstream banking. Another reason why most bank heists are not reported to the media is to prevent prospective thieves and robbers from gaining access to security details and prior plans. Here is a list of 6 bank robberies that were reported in the media either due to the methods used or due to the phenomenal sums involved.
Delhi Cash Van Robbery
Date: 24 November, 2015
In what has been called Delhi’s biggest heist, the driver of an Axis Bank cash van deployed to refill ATMs made off with INR 22.5 crore worth cash on 24 November, 2015. The van was transporting money from the Vikaspuri branch and the driver took off with the cash boxes when the accompanying guard stepped out for a washroom break. The Delhi Police stepped into action and the driver was nabbed within 3 days. Almost all the money was recovered. The driver had used some money to buy clothes and a watch. He was nabbed from a warehouse near the Govindpuri Metro station.
Sonipat Bank Robbery
Date: 27 October, 2014 (discovered)
Over the last weekend of October 2014, a daring heist was pulled off at the Punjab National Bank branch located at Gohana in Sonipat, Haryana. Robbers made off with nearly INR 100 crore and cleared out 89 lockers. The modus operandi was indeed surprising. Robbers had managed to dig a 2.5-foot wide and 125-foot long tunnel right through to the bank’s strong room and all this was done without making any sound or raising any suspicions. Within a couple of days, however, much of the gold was recovered when the police cracked the case. The chief accused Mahipal committed suicide and his accomplices Surender, Balraj, and Satish were arrested. This robbery gained much attention due to its mode of operation – long tunnel was dug without disrupting any electricity, telephone, or water line – and for having evaded detection till the heist was pulled off.
Carbanak Online Heist
The Carbanak online heist or series of cyber robberies is not specific to India. Nor was it much reported in the media to prevent panic among the users of nascent cyberbanking technology in the country. The scale of the online robberies, however, is staggering. Starting 2013, the Carbanak group of online fraudsters started targeting a number of banks in different countries and started to transfer out funds from these banks. Targets included banks from USA, China, Germany, India, Russia, Canada, Hong Kong, France, Spain, Norway, and many other nations. Banking systems were infected with an indigenously developed virus allowing the fraudsters to transfer out tens of millions of dollars. The banks took about 2-4 months to detect the fraud. It is believed that the total value of these robberies is over USD 1 billion. According to the last media reports from 2013, officials from the Kaspersky Lab, Interpol and Europol had formed a team to investigate and nab the band of cyber criminals.
Serial Heists in NCR
Date: Between 2008 and 2009
The banned group Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) was deemed to be behind a series of bank heists in North India, including an INR 1.5-crore robbery at the Oriental Bank of Commerce, Gurgaon Branch, an unsuccessful attempt at an SBI Ghaziabad branch in Ghaziabad and another heist pulled off at the Haridwar branch of the Oriental Bank between 2008 and 2009. Most of these were carried out by KCF members dressed as Punjab Police officials. The case was cracked in 2009 when a special unit of Delhi Police arrested Baljinder Singh, Raj Kumar Sharma, Sachin Kumar and Gajender Singh after laying an elaborate trap.
Chelembra Bank Robbery
Date: 30 December, 2007
Inspired by the Bollywood flick Dhoom, four people from Kozhikode in Kerala conducted a bank heist and stole 80 kilograms of gold and INR 25 lakh cash from the Chelembra branch of South Malabar Gramin Bank in Malappuram district of Kerala. The net worth of the heist is pegged at about INR 8 crore 25 lakh. Vaniyampurakkal Joseph alias Jaison aka Babu and three associates rented a restaurant on the ground floor of the building which housed the bank and drilled a hole through the ceiling into the strong room on the first floor pulling off the robbery on a Sunday night. Despite many hurdles, the police traced the robbers and reclaimed most of the lost gold and cash and apprehended the criminals.
KCF Bank Robbery
Date: 12 February, 1987
While it has been about 3 decades to this robbery, this one is still talked about. Members of the Khalistan Commando Force stormed the Miller Ganj branch (Ludhiana) of Punjab National Bank during the height of the Khalistan Movement and made away with almost INR 5.7 crore. This amount, at that time, was a phenomenal sum and this came to be known as the biggest bank robbery of India. The members of the KCF involved in the heist did not intend to hurt or kill and looted the bank to fund their need for arms and ammunitions, they later said at the trial. It was after about 25 years, in 2012, that 12 of the main accused were sentenced to a 10-year prison term. Ten others involved were killed in incidences of violence and militancy.