Iranian police Friday displayed recovered money and gold after they announced the arrest of 13 people allegedly involved in a recent large bank heist in Tehran.
The surprisingly quick reaction by the police still leaves many questions unanswered about the robbery of safety deposit boxes at a central branch of Bank Melli (National Bank) near Tehran University and half a mile distance from Supreme Leader Ali Khamnei’s headquarters and residence in central Tehran.
Officials produced a photo of nine people in prison uniform standing against a prison wall, with their faces hidden, while one police official claimed some had been arrested during a shootout and were wounded, but there was no indication in the photo of wounded detainees.
They also said that three of the 13 people detained were caught after fleeing to Turkey, but so far there are no reports in Turkish media.
Whoever robbed up to 250 safety deposit boxes took advantage of a long weekend in Iran and by some accounts they entered the vault housing the boxes sometime at night and completed the heist on Friday, but it remained unknown until Monday when the bank re-opened.
Tasnim news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard published a video showing a large table covered with hundreds of plastic bags containing foreign currency, gold and documents, saying authorities have laid out the stolen loot for owners of the safety deposit boxes to identify.
It was not clear how officials separated the recovered money and gold in separate bags when they had said earlier that the bank had no idea what customers kept in their boxes, which is always the case in all banks.
Many Iranians remained skeptical of the whole saga, as earlier suspicions fell on political actors rather than ordinary criminals being behind the heist. Two lines of conspiracy theories quickly took root. First, that adversaries of the Islamic Republic who have been conducting sabotage acts in the country were behind what was seen as an extremely difficult operation.
Second, suspicions fell on internal actors who ostensibly broke into the bank not to steal money but to get hold of politically sensitive documents that current or former politicians might have hidden as a bargaining chip.
One theory circulating on social media pointed at documents possibly kept by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly threatened in the past to reveal secrets about politicians and officials. “Shall I tell?” is a well-known refrain by Ahmadinejad over the past decade.
The police have not said how they were able to catch the burglars in 48 hours, as they claimed on Friday. Their identities have also not been disclosed.
There are also no details yet about how the burglars were able to break through multiple security barriers in the bank, where according to earlier reports they also stole the main security server with all CCTV recordings.
Asked by reporters if bank employees might have been involved, Tehran’s police chief rejected the notion but accused the bank of failing to have adequate security measures in place. He added that one month earlier, police investigators who surveyed security at the branch warned the management of inadequate measures.