The alarm center received a call for the police at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday last: a case with €700,000 worth of cash had been stolen from a ferry from Sweden that had just docked. Because calls like this happen very rarely, authorities first had to make sure the information was solid.
A call was placed to head of offenses against property of the Northern Prefecture Toomas Jervson 15 minutes later as the information was confirmed. Jervson said the sum baffled the authorities and merited a double check. Having shaken the initial shock, Jervson set about assembling a team to recover the stolen money - stolen cash tends to disappear without a trace.
Even though cars were still coming off the ferry at the time, it would have been impossible to shut down port traffic to check all vehicles one by one. “Especially in a situation where the report was still vague at the time,” Jervson said.
No break in
Officers first boarded the ferry to check the victim’s single cabin and take a statement. He said the case was there when he went to sleep that night and gone by the time he woke up. It remains unclear how someone could have gotten access to the case as there were no signs of forced entry.
This means that either the cabin door was left open for the night or the thief had free access to the case another way. The victim was in possession of so much cash on account of working for currency exchange company Tavid that maintains subsidiaries in Sweden. The case held €700,000 worth of different currencies.
The courier’s task was to take it to Tallinn. While the money did reach the capital, it was no longer in the possession of the one supposed to transport it. While forensics specialists were checking the cabin, a part of Jervson’s team sat down with the ferry’s surveillance camera footage from last night. A number of recordings were analyzed together with ferry operator Tallink’s security team. Finding the thief proved tricky as the victim’s cabin was far from cameras.
The police initially suspected a foreigner. Colleagues from the Western Prefecture were asked to be prepared for inspection of foreign vehicles. The latter measure proved unnecessary at 20 minutes to noon when investigators checking the tapes spotted a person carrying the briefcase in question down a hallway at night. The briefcase was now in a different part of the ferry.
The man on the tapes was quickly identified and a background check ordered. That was perhaps the most confusing moment of the entire investigation for officers as the man with the case had no prior punishments and seemed an entirely law-abiding working man.
Detectives drove to the man’s home and were surprised to spot the suspect driving to meet them from the opposite direction. Officers decided to follow his car and nab him as he was about to exit the vehicle.
When the suspect got out of his car, on his way to a meeting, detectives detained him and explained the matter. No more than four hours had passed since the suspect left the ferry.
The man was initially in shock as he couldn’t understand how the authorities had found him so quickly. However, he became talkative quite soon and showed the investigators where he had put the case in his garage. While the police cannot reveal everything that was said at the interrogation, the man claimed he didn’t even know the case held such a sum.
It remains unclear whether that is true, however, as it is known he had been in contact with the victim aboard the ferry the previous evening. The authorities did not say where and under what circumstances the two men met. However, it is probable the men shared a beer at the bar.
The jolly life of a collector
While Tavid was also reluctant to go into detail, board member Jüri Martin’s comment suggests the collector was having more fun than he should have on board the ferry. “Our cash collector gravely ignored all internal procedure rules, which is what allowed this incident to take place,” Martin said.
The rules state that collectors must not consume alcohol or talk to anyone about the cash during trips.
This is not the first time a valuable case has been stolen from Tavid. The previous such incident took place in Stockholm in 2009. Back then, a case with nearly 13 kilograms of gold was replaced with one filled with water bottles.
Jervson said that transporting cash or gold in this manner is clearly dangerous. “There are criminals prepared to take a life for that kind of money. This is placing people in mortal danger,” Jervson said. It is entirely possible the thief took the criminal path simply because the opportunity presented itself.
Jervson added that Tallink’s internal control and security team did good work. Their operative action played an important role in the quick resolution of the crime.
Martin said the company definitely learned a lesson. “We learn from every such incident. However, ours is a business where risks are ever present and cannot be managed in full. We can minimize them, however. The entire process is so complex that we cannot just change one detail,” Martin said. He added that in most cases the company transports cash using the services of a collection company, not its own collectors.