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CRIME

Cashing in: Why Germany is an ‘El Dorado’ for bank machine raiders

Some 369 bank machines or ATMs were destroyed by explosions in Germany last year, a 38-percent increase compared with 2017 and 10 times more than a decade ago, according to data from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).

Cashing in: Why Germany is an 'El Dorado' for bank machine raiders
An exploded ATM in Neukirchen-Vluyn in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017. Photo: DPA

“Search for black Audi after attempt to blow up a cash machine”, “Neighbours hear loud bang, perpetrators flee in Audi”, “Car chase through three federal states”: headlines like these have become commonplace around Germany as raids on cash machines have increased in number.

Carried out late at night, perpetrators often plan the attacks “months in advance”, according to Europol.

The crimes can be risky, with one man killed in October 2018 while attempting a similar attack on a ticket machine at a local train station in Halle, southwest of Berlin.

But successful attacks on ATMs are highly lucrative.

In May, raiders who blasted open a Commerzbank cash machine in Eschborn, near Frankfurt, made off with €190,000.

The police managed to grab one suspect who returned to the scene of the
crime in the small hours, but his accomplices and the cash have disappeared without trace, Frankfurt prosecutor Christian Hartwig said.

Many cash machine crackers come “from the Netherlands and central Europe” to Germany simply because of its favourable geography, he added.

An exploded ATM at U-Bahn Mierendorffplatz in Berlin. Photo: DPA

'Audi gang'

Germany's geographical position at the centre of Europe and its dense web of motorways, much of which is not covered by a speed limit, means that criminals can more easily shake off police than elsewhere — driving German-made sports cars, naturally.

One particularly notorious group has plagued the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which shares a border with the Netherlands and where the largest number of bank raids are carried out.

The press dubbed the group the “Audi gang” because their getaway car of choice tended to be rented or stolen vehicles of that particular high-end brand.

Three members of the gang were hauled before a court in state capital Düsseldorf in June, accused of stealing more than €600,000 and causing €100,000 of damage in 2017-18.

Last year, a total of 128 suspects were arrested over cash machine robberies, most of them from the Netherlands, the BKA said.

Even so, Germany accounts for more than one-third of the attacks recorded across 11 large European countries surveyed by the European Association for Secure Transactions (EAST).

The nation's 58,000 machines make up just 16 percent of the installed base across all the countries in the study.

A blown up 'Geldautomat', or cash machine, in Berlin's Kreuzberg in May. Photo: DPA

Fighting back

While cash machine attacks have mounted in Germany, the number reported in the other 10 nations studied by EAST, including France and Britain, fell 15 percent to just under 700 altogether.

Such data highlight how banks can work together with government support to reduce the incentives to blast open ATMs.

In the Netherlands, lenders created the “Geldmaat” network, agreeing to hold less cash in each machine but refill them more regularly in order to reduce the potential payoff for any one raid.

France ordered banks in 2015 to fit ATMs with systems that stain banknotes if they are forcibly removed.

Europol credits the move with sharply reducing the number of attacks in France, which fell from 304 in 2013 to just 58 in 2018, according to National Gendarmerie figures.

Even in Germany, criminals fail to secure any banknotes in 60 percent of cases thanks to well-protected machines, the BKA said.

But successful attacks can be highly lucrative.

On average, €130,000 are stolen in each German crime, compared with just €17,100 euros across the 11 countries surveyed by EAST.

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CRIME

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

A 50-year-old German man was jailed for life Tuesday for shooting dead a petrol station cashier because he was angry about being told to wear a mask while buying beer.

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

The September 2021 murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein shocked Germany, which saw a vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement emerge in response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

The row started when 20-year-old student worker Alex W. asked the man to put on a mask inside the shop, as required in all German stores at the time.

After a brief argument, the man left.

The perpetrator – identified only as Mario N. – returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he bought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off his mask and another argument ensued.

He then pulled out a revolver and shot the cashier in the head point-blank.

On Tuesday, the district court in Bad-Kreuznach convicted Mario N. of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, and handed him a life sentence.

READ ALSO: Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

Under German law, people given a life sentence can usually seek parole after 15 years. His defence team had sought a sentence of manslaughter, rather than murder.

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Nicole Frohn told how Mario N. had felt increasingly angry about the measures imposed to curb the pandemic, seeing them as an infringement on his rights.

“Since he knew he couldn’t reach the politicians responsible, he decided to kill him (Alex W.),” she said.

Mario N. turned himself in to police the day after the shooting.

German has relaxed most of its coronavirus rules, although masks are still required in some settings, such as public transport.

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