Trial starts for 10 men accused in $5 million helicopter heist at Swedish cash depot
STOCKHOLM – STOCKHOLM (AP) — Ten men accused of stealing nearly 40 million kronor ($5 million) in a commando-style raid of a Swedish cash depot pleaded innocent Monday as prosecutors opened their trial with surveillance video of the brazen helicopter heist.
The footage of the Sept. 23, 2009 robbery showed three black-clad bandits leaping from the chopper and breaking into the G4S cash facility in Stockholm from the roof. They used explosives, ladders and a power cutter to access the cash as panicked employees, all unarmed, fled the building.
Police have not recovered the cash and say several suspects are still at large.
Five of those on trial Monday were charged with aggravated robbery and five with complicity, in one of the largest police investigations in Swedish history. If found guilty, they would face prison terms of up to 10 years.
The defendants include the alleged helicopter pilot and one of the three men prosecutors say broke into the building. The others are accused of helping plan and prepare the heist or obstructing the police response.
All 10 denied the charges Monday in a packed Stockholm court room. Some of them waved and smiled to relatives and friends among the spectators as prosecutors started presenting their evidence.
Swedish privacy rules prevent media from reporting their names. Nine of them are Swedish citizens while one is Syrian. They are between 23- and 38-years-old.
The pre-dawn raid caught Swedish police by surprise, even though they had received tips about the plans from counterparts in Serbia.
Police were unable to launch their own helicopters to pursue the bandits, because apparent bombs — that later turned out to be fake — had been placed at their helipad.
None of the employees were harmed. The surveillance video showed some of them hiding in a safe room, covering their ears or hugging each other as explosions rocked the building. They then escaped, shortly before the bandits made it into the room were the cash was being stored.
"They heard the explosions and many of them feared for their lives," said Max Fredriksson, a lawyer representing employees, who are seeking a total of about 1 million kronor in damages from the suspects.
Wearing paintball masks and black clothing, the robbers used a power cutter to break open two cages with cash. One is seen carrying a handgun while another has an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
They filled up bags with money and loaded them onto the chopper. Police, who had been waiting for a SWAT team to arrive, watched the aircraft take off from the street below.
A GPS device found in the helicopter after the heist showed it had made one stop before the going to the cash depot, possibly to pick up some of the robbers and load it with explosives, prosecutors said. After the raid, it is believed to have landed twice to unload the cash, before it was abandoned in a suburb north of Stockholm.
Prosecutors presented an analysis of calling records that they said showed the people in the chopper were communicating with accomplices on the ground.
They also said some of the suspects, including the helicopter pilot, left DNA traces at the scene.
Leif Silbersky, the defense lawyer for the alleged pilot, said that his client had flown the helicopter before, but not during the heist. Silbersky said the pilot did not know how to fly the chopper at night.
"He doesn't have the training for that," Silbersky said.