Police probe 'inside job' theory in foiled HSBC heist

The thieves who attempted to penetrate the vault at HSBC’s headquarters in Qormi on Wednesday evening allegedly had an electronic card that could have given them access to one of Malta’s most secure cash vaults.

L-orizzont today reports that police believe the criminal gang are a group of five professionals. The hold-up took place at 7:15pm when two cars, a white Peugeot and a Kia Sorrento parked outside the bank. Three suited thieves, wearing wigs, sunglasses and fake moustaches, entered the bank using the electronic card that is only issued to authorised bank employees.

The thieves reportedly entered the control room where security officers are positioned, pointing their gun to the officer’s head and ordered him to direct the Special Assignment Group police officer to come to the control room. Upon entering, the thieves took the SAG officer under their control and tied tied him up.

At this point, the police mobile unit are believed to have arrived on the scene. The driver in the getaway car, the white Peugeot, left the scene. Although police gave chase, the car managed to dodge them when it entered the Mriehel industrial estate. The police then returned to the HSBC bank in Qormi, where they saw the three thieves exiting the building.

At this point, the thieves started shooting at the police. As the shootout ensued between police and the thieves, the Kia Sorrento arrived on the scene with two men: the three thieves got in. Police shot at least three bullets into the back of the car. A police officer is said to have luckily escaped injury when shots were directed towards him, however his response shots smashed the windscreen of the getaway car and missed the driver by inches.

Police reported that the thieves threw what they thought was a Molotov bomb, which later turned out to be a bottle filled with diesel, ostensibly to create a barrier of fire that would prevent the police from giving chase.

Eyewitnesses have reported that one of the thieves may have been injured, as he was being helped into the car by the other two thieves who led the attempted heist.

MaltaToday has reported that the thieves are believed to be well trained in the use of hand weapons, to the extent that investigators are now focusing on the possibility that the thieves may have received military training.

Forensic investigators are reported to have established that a total of 65 shots were fired at the police who foiled the daring robbery from what is known to be one of Malta’s most secure establishments.

Evidence collected from the scene of the crime and witness recounts on the events that unfolded, speak of professional movements by "men who definitely have military training" said a source, while adding that "they ducked, covered each other and shot with such rapidity that left no space for the police to react."

A Magnum pistol, known to be among the most powerful hand guns on the market was elevated from the crime scene by investigators.

A number of HSBC Bank employees have been reported to be interrogated by the police, suggesting that the police believe that insider information must have been provided by the robbers.

The dramatic events were also witnessed by a number of children who happened to be in a music class just metres away from the incident. MaltaToday is informed that the class was disrupted as shots rang out from across the road as mobile police officers came under fire from the bank robbers. From the window, the students saw the police duck behind their vehicle and respond to the firing, while a get-away car dangerously maneuvered to pull out the robbers from the area.

One of the students had the presence of mind to rush downstairs to shut a main door in a bid to protect his fellow students from facing the daunting prospect of finding themselves hostage should one of the robbers have tried to seek refuge inside another building. His effort was applauded by parents and students.

Meanwhile, forensic investigators have this morning returned to crime scene in a search for evidence that may point towards suspects. Informed sources explained that a number of suspects have been rounded up during the night while others are being sought after this morning. Investigators are racing against time to test all suspects for gun shot residue (GSR).