5 of Asia's most fascinating bank heists

Crime-thriller film Marauders, which recently premiered in Asian theatres, sees action star Bruce Willis as a high-powered bank owner, whose bank is brutally robbed by a group of heavily armed criminals.

FBI agents desperately try to get to the bottom of the crime, but unexpectedly stumble upon a vast conspiracy, and a treasure trove of political secrets.

Bank heists narratives are a dime a dozen in Hollywood blockbusters, but it seems that reality isn’t too far off either - the FBI states that there were over 4,000 robberies in the United States in 2015 alone.

The statistics of reported bank robberies in East and Southeast Asia are noticeably lower according to this 2006 UNODC report (which compares the rate of robberies per 100,000 people in each region’s total population), but Asia has had its fair share of intriguing robbery cases.

Here’s a look at five of the most fascinating bank heists from around Asia in recent decades.

300 Million Yen Robbery (1968)


A composite portrait of the suspect released by the Japanese police.

The year is 1968. A group of Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank employees are transporting almost 300 million yen (equivalent to about US$3.6 million today) to a factory on a rainy December morning.

The money is neatly packed in metal boxes, and locked up in the trunk of a company car. They are a mere 200m away from the factory when a police motorcycle screeches to a halt in front of their car.

The policeman screams that that dynamite had been planted on their car, and that the vehicle is about to explode. He tells them that their branch manager’s house had just been blown up as well.

Smoke and flames appear under the car. Terrified, the employees flee the vehicle. Unfortunately for these bank employees (and the factory employees for whom the money was intended for as bonuses), it’s too late - the ‘policeman’ calmly enters the vehicle, speeds off, and is never seen again.

The suspect was never apprehended. It’s been almost half a century, and the unsolved case still continues to fascinate Japan as one of the country’s most incredulous heists.

Standard Chartered Robbery (2016)


The suspect in a photo taken at a Bangkok airport. Photo: Screengrab from Nation TV

Bank robberies are a rarity in Singapore, with only five such crimes occurring over the past 12 years.

The most recent (and perhaps most peculiar) case was the one involving 26-year-old Canadian tourist David James Roach, who managed to rob a bank in Singapore with nothing but a piece of paper. Without any weapon whatsoever.

Yeah, you read that right. On the morning of July 7, 2016, Roach casually strolled into the Holland Village branch of Standard Chartered Bank, handed the teller a note with his demands, and walked out of the bank, money in hand.

Some reports said that Roach even subsequently visited a nearby cafe for a quick snack. But this particular thief did not get very far.

After fleeing to Bangkok, Roach enjoyed only three days of freedom before he was swiftly arrested at the backpacker hostel he was residing in. However, Thailand has refused to extradite the Canadian to Singapore, leaving room for more twists in this tale.

Carbanak Online Heist


Photo: LinkedIn

In 2013, news broke out that a cybergang, Carbanak, had launched repeated online attacks on financial institutions around the globe.

The world was largely unprepared for this, as this was an unprecedented type of cyber attacks on banks; where hackers would previously rely on fraudulent methods, this criminal gang instead developed codes that would allow them to extract money directly from bank networks.

Early detection of the missing funds would have been challenging as well - investigators found that it took an average of two to four months for the gang’s malware to infect the system and for the transfer process to be completed.

It is estimated that the total value stolen to date is a nightmarish US$1 billion, with an average of US$8 million stolen per bank.

While the masterminds behind the cyberattacks have not been identified, it is suspected that the multinational group consists of European and Chinese hackers.

At the time of this article, Carbanak’s attacks are still reportedly active.

Agricultural Bank Of China Embezzlement


Photo: Wikipedia

This particular white-collar crime went down as the largest bank robbery in China’s history, but the missing funds surprisingly went unnoticed for almost half a year.

Agricultural Bank Of China managers Ren Xiaofeng and Ma Xiangjing, with the complicity of two of the bank’s security officers, hatched a devious insider scheme to ‘borrow’ money from the bank in order to purchase a huge sum of lottery tickets.

The plan was to win enough money to quietly return the stolen money to the bank, while having surplus for themselves as well.

They repeated this plan three times, but were only successful on their first try. Lady Luck just wasn’t smiling down on them anymore, because they got caught soon after in April 2006.

Sonipat Bank Robbery


The robbery suspects being arrested. Photo: Indian Express

This robbery takes a leaf out of the classic bank robbery scene: dig a tunnel under a bank, enter the vault, wipe it clean, and leave without anyone noticing.

After two months of careful planning, this was exactly what a group of four thieves did on a weekend in October 2014, in the quiet town of Sonipat in India’s state of Haryana.

Prior to breaking into the vault in Punjab National Bank, the robbers spent 40 days meticulously digging a tunnel that was less than 1m wide and almost 40m in length.

The tunnel miraculously avoided telephone, water, or electricity lines, allowing them to evade detection at the time of the crime.

The group discreetly cleared out 86 lockers of money and jewellery, which was worth well over a whopping INR 100 crore (more than US$16m).

Three of the thieves were caught three days later, but the mastermind (who apparently drew inspiration from the popular 2006 Hindi movie, Dhoom 2) had already committed suicide.