A view from the Bank Melli branch that was robbed (undated)

A view from the Bank Melli branch that was robbed

Police Fire In The Air To Disperse Victims Of The Biggest Bank Heist In Iran

6/8/2022

Police resorted to force Wednesday to break up a protest rally by people whose safety deposit boxes were robbed in a bank heist in a central Tehran branch of Iran’s largest bank.

According to footage circulating in social media, security forces fired warning shots and used violence to disperse the gathering of people in front of the robbed branch of the bank near the University of Tehran.

State-owned Bank Melli (National Bank) public relations office announced that the head and deputy head of the branch had been fired "for negligence." But hundreds of people who lost their life savings or important documents demand compensation.

Officials said an investigation was also underway, with several bank employees “under observation” for possible “dereliction of duty.” Three suspects are being interrogated in custody. 

The gall of the robbers has fed social media speculation, and even comparisons with famous bank robberies elsewhere in the world, like the 1983 Brink’s Mat heist in the United Kingdom. 

Bank Melli issued a statement on Tuesday denying social media reports that 1,000 boxes had been breached, saying thieves had entered the branch and accessed 168 safety deposit boxes. Earlier reports said the number was 200 to 250 boxes. 

The exact details of the stolen property and documents have not yet been released, and in the past two days some Bank Melli officials have stated that the bank "has no criminal and legal responsibility for the contents of the boxes."

Officials and police inspect a section of safety deposit boxes at Bank Melli.

Media and officials in Tehran say it is not clear what the bank robbers stole from the safety deposit boxes, since banks have no information about what people put in these boxes, which are used to safely store personal mementoes, precious foreign currency, and gold coins bought as a hedge against inflation.

It is also not clear if there is any kind of insurance covering losses sustained by customers. One report last year suggested Iranians were keeping $25-$30 billion in cash “at home,” which would include money in bank deposit boxes.

The bank is about half a mile from the headquarters and residence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Iran was on a four-day holiday from Thursday to Sunday marking the death anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. Apparently, the robbers gained access during the holiday, and it is not clear how long they were inside. They managed to open four sealed doors, reached the coffers, and destroyed security cameras, and took the hard drives, practically leaving no trace behind.

One former bank official told Iranian media that it would next to impossible to break through one of the main safe doors protecting the safe deposit boxes. “One would need days to break through the door with blow torches,” he said. Some doors were protected with electronic passes, codes and alarms.

A series of suspicious events that happened since last week, has led to speculations that the robbers may have sought some specific documents and have come from abroad for the heist.

On Thursday, an Iranian hacktivist group named ‘Uprising till Overthrow' hacked into and deactivated over 5,000 surveillance cameras and 150 websites and online services of Tehran Municipality. The robbery happened in the early hours of Friday. And the passport control system at Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport was reportedly hacked on Saturday, stranding passengers for a couple of hours.

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