Emmerich/Krefeld (dpa) – The burglary went like in a Hollywood film: early in the morning, three men levered open the basement door of a customs office in Emmerich on the Lower Rhine, which was deserted on All Saints’ Day a year and a half ago.
In the basement they used a massive large drill, broke through the wall of the vault – and disappeared with 6.5 million euros in carrying bags. A fourth is said to have been a lookout.
Well, after a year and a half of investigations without any visible success, the authorities reported four arrests on Wednesday – three men and one woman. They were caught in the Polish cities of Zgorzelec and Karpacz. All suspects are in custody.
At first there was no sign of the perpetrators
At the end of 2020, the case was extremely embarrassing for customs, which repeatedly confiscated drug and illegal funds in the millions. There was initially no sign of the perpetrators or the loot. The investigators in North Rhine-Westphalia seemed to be groping in the dark. And even the senior public prosecutor responsible at the time speculated shortly after the fact that a leak in customs itself could have been responsible for the burglars striking at exactly the same time as the safe was chock full of drugs and black money.
“Now it’s being checked: who exactly knew about the money,” the senior public prosecutor announced a year and a half ago. And this path could have led to success. The authorities are silent on details. One of those arrested was a German customs official. “He was the tipster,” confirmed the senior public prosecutor who is now responsible.
He is not allowed to say more because the investigations are continuing in Germany and Poland in a closely coordinated so-called “mirror procedure”. There is also no answer to the particularly exciting question about the loot of millions. For the time being, the investigators do not say where all the money went, or they do not know themselves.
The alleged tipster, who is a German and Polish citizen, owns apartments in Cologne and in Görlitz near the Polish border. Both were searched on May 10, as was his office in the customs authority in Bonn and numerous objects in Poland. According to the current state of the investigation, the other arrested persons were a Polish woman who is said to have acted as an intermediary and two Polish men who are said to have carried out the crime.
Observed by witnesses
On the day of the crime, witnesses had seen dark-clad men with knitted hats loading a white van with the carrier bags. They had previously heard drilling noises but had not called the police. Later, the fourth suspect – probably the one who had been the lookout – drove away in a car.
“North Rhine-Westphalian and Polish authorities have meticulously investigated for 18 months and worked together across borders,” praised NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU). So it was possible to solve a spectacular criminal case. “Here suspected serious criminals were arrested, who acted professionally and even laid fraudulent tracks – an indication that even the most sophisticated crimes are not worthwhile,” said the minister.
Fraudulent traces were intended to mislead investigators after a crime. In the Emmerich case, according to dpa information, the perpetrators are said to have left false DNA traces at the crime scene.
The police union officer responsible for customs, Frank Buckenhofer, had sharply criticized the security precautions in customs offices after the fact. There is a lack of armed security personnel – especially at night – and in many cases the structural infrastructure. “If officials confiscate three million at night, they could not safely accommodate them in the short term,” said Buckenhofer. “That hasn’t changed a year and a half after Emmerich.”