The Copenhagen Job

nissenmorte-1398651995-50.jpg

The Copenhagen Job

The inside story of Denmark’s biggest heist.

By Line Holm Nielsen

The Atavist Magazine, No. 36


Line Holm Nielsen is an acclaimed Danish nonfiction writer and a journalist for the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. She has twice been nominated for the Cavling Prize, Denmark’s most prestigious journalism award, most recently for Kuppet.

Editor: Lea Korsgaard
Translator: Mark Kline
Translation Editor: Charles Homans
Designer: Gray Beltran
Producer: Megan Detrie
Researcher: Laura Smith
Photography: Mads Nissen
Additional Images: Danish National Police, Berlingske Tidende, Wikimedia Commons
Audiobook Narrator: Megan Detrie
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper

“The Copenhagen Job” originally appeared in Danish as Kuppet, an e-single published by Zetland in October 2012.



Published in April 2014. Design updated in 2021.

The screen has gone dark. The video camera flits around in the murky night; only the microphone is picking up anything. “Someone’s coming,” a voice whispers over a walkie-talkie.

“OK, Marco, lemme work, lemme work…,” another voice answers from close to the camera. A foreign accent comes through clearly on the recording. “I’ll be down in ten minutes.”

A picture emerges from the darkness: an arched window of plastic reinforced with wire mesh. The image slowly comes into focus, and it’s clear that the camera isn’t pointed horizontally; it’s pointed down. The person filming lies hidden on the roof of a building that houses an unusual workplace.

A white van is parked 12, maybe 15 feet below the man on the roof. Its open side door faces the large storeroom. The room is filled with bags, cardboard cartons, and stacks of blue and orange plastic boxes.

The driver removes several tall boxes from inside the van, stacks them on a hand truck, and wheels them into the storeroom. The camera follows the driver as he passes below and disappears inside. There are 20 or so boxes to unload. He has no idea he’s being watched.

The radio crackles. “What’d you say?” the man with the camera asks.

“There are three or four people getting off work. They’re coming out now.” The voice on the radio sounds nervous.

“Yeah, OK, OK,” the man on the roof answers. Now the driver down below is rolling out blue metal cabinets on wheels, containing gray cartons. The man on the roof knows exactly what’s inside.           

The cartons are filled with money: millions of Danish kroner and euros. On a busy day, the business receives 200 million kroner—over $37 million—in unmarked, untraceable bills. The money down there isn’t really anybody’s. It belongs to the anonymous masses who have so much. The man on the roof knows a lot of people who could use just a tiny fraction of that money.

To get a share of the fortune down in the storeroom requires only the perfect plan, the right co-conspirators, and a certain daredevil attitude. It’s said that Danes aren’t willing to do what is necessary. To go all the way. The man with the video camera doesn’t have that problem. He wants it.

Wealth and respect are waiting right below him. The man on the roof has just begun.

20080810150-1398875755-97.png
(PHOTO: MOGENS FLINDT/BT) 

One

Stine is lost, and it’s her own fault; she didn’t bother to turn on the GPS. It’s only 18 miles home from the pub in the western Copenhagen suburb of Måløv, where she just finished working the night shift. Under normal circumstances she could drive that stretch in her sleep, but she ran into some road construction, and now she’s on a long detour. She has no idea where she is.

A freeway sign pops up; at least she’s headed in the right direction. Stine is pulling the Toyota Corolla onto the entrance ramp when she sees a large blue truck in front of her, parked sideways on the ramp: a garbage truck belonging to the M. Larsen trucking company. A white van has stopped on the freeway’s emergency lane, too. What’s going on? she thinks. Must be an accident.

Then the truck’s cab explodes into flames. In the glow of the fire, she sees a man in a white hoodie emerge from behind the truck holding a gas can. He crosses the freeway, pouring from the can. His hood has slid back; Stine sees that he is light skinned and has short hair. The man leans over and flicks a lighter, and a line of fire shoots across the two lanes. He hurries back to the van, the driver revs the engine, and the two men are gone.

Stine calls the police, but a squad car is already on the way. She still has the phone to her ear when she hears a crash behind her. A green Mazda 323 has a flat tire, and the driver tried to stop. Behind it a Suzuki also gets a flat tire and crashes into the Mazda.

Stine looks at her phone. It’s 4:37 a.m. on August 10, 2008.


At 4:30 a.m., a squad car calls in to Copenhagen’s Western District police headquarters in Albertslund, a suburb just down the highway from Måløv. The patrolmen are outside the station’s underground parking lot but can’t get in. “There’s a truck on fire blocking the parking-lot entrance,” one of them says over the radio.

Peter Grønbek Nielsen, the supervisor on duty, studies the station’s surveillance-camera feeds. They’re right: An M. Larsen garbage truck is on fire outside, and it’s not alone. A blue garbage truck is parked sideways at the station’s main entrance, illuminated by flames. The station’s emergency phones begin ringing all at once; the two dispatchers can’t keep up. Trucks are on fire throughout the district, approach roads and freeway entrances are blocked, scores of cars have flat tires.

“What the hell…?” Grønbek says—but he has an idea of what’s going on even before the words are out of his mouth. He starts calling squad cars out on patrol. Not one or two; he needs every car in the district, and he needs them now. Meanwhile, one of the station’s direct lines is blinking. “Police,” an officer answers.

“Yes, hi, this is Rikke from G4S.” The Western District often receives calls from G4S, the world’s largest security company, which is responsible for protecting numerous stores and industrial facilities in the Copenhagen area. This call concerns Danish Value Handling, a cash-distribution center located on Kornmarksvej, a road running through an industrial zone in the suburb of Brøndby, east of Albertslund. “I’ve just received a duress alarm outside,” Rikke says, “and a few burglary alarms—”

“Duress alarm at Danish Value Handling?” The officer is paying attention now. “What time did it come in?”

“I got it at 4:38,” Rikke says.

“Zeeero-fourrr-thrrree-eight…,” the officer says.

“Mmm, actually that’s not right, because—”

“They’re out there now! They’re out there now! Confirmed!” The officer’s voice is shaking. “We’re on our way now.”

“Alright, thanks,” Rikke says. She hangs up, but the officer doesn’t, not immediately. The station’s system continues recording the phone call. After a moment, the officer shouts, “We have to get a car through that entrance!”

He’s talking to a colleague sitting in a squad car in the underground parking lot who can’t get out. The main exit is blocked by the burning garbage truck, and the alternative, a fire exit, is locked. The key isn’t in the cabinet where it should be.

The officers inside the headquarters, meanwhile, are staring at the live video from a building a few miles away: the Danish Value Handling facility. “Oh shit,” a female officer says. “Shit!”

A room comes into view on the live video: a white room with a few tables. A wall of metal bars divides the room. In the background, a thick steel door is open. Through it is a vault the size of a small garage. The air in the room is filled with brown dust; the floor is strewn with chunks of brick. The wall near the vault is in ruins. Large men in balaclavas, blue-gray coveralls, and bulletproof vests are working quickly. One of them holds up a Kalashnikov.

policemonit-1398867878-31.jpg
(Photo: Danish National Police)

Two

René Rejnholdt Pedersen’s night shift is about to end, in the early hours of August 10, 2008. The veteran private security guard is sitting in G4S’s coffee room when he receives an alarm at a Brøndby warehouse belonging to Milton A/S, a manufacturer of gas furnaces and hot-water tanks. Pedersen gets in his white Toyota and races off toward Brøndby’s industrial zone.

There have been mysterious incidents at Milton for several weeks. The first alarm at the warehouse was early on the morning of Saturday, July 19. But Pedersen couldn’t find anything wrong or any sign of a break-in and deemed it a false alarm. That evening, however, the alarm went off again. This time the security guard noted that a motion sensor in one room had been smeared with a transparent substance—presumably silicone—but again, nothing had been stolen.

A week later, at 5:51 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, another security guard visiting the Milton warehouse found a window open. The next day, on Sunday evening, another alarm went off, then sometime later that night still another.

When Milton’s warehouse manager showed up for work the following Monday, he called Copenhagen’s Western District police. A number of enormous steel shelves, he reported, had been moved in the warehouse, exposing several yards of wall separating it from the neighboring building. Several boxes had been placed to block the view of a sensor by the door, and a plexiglass skylight on the roof had been damaged. The police came immediately when Milton’s manager happened to mention who the company’s neighbor was: Danish Value Handling.


Kornmarksvej, where the Danish Value Handling facility is located, doesn’t look like much—a broad street lined with faceless office buildings and warehouses. Kornmarksvej 8-10, a sprawling two-story brown building, is no exception. Three companies have facilities there. Facing the street is Faderberg, a valve manufacturer. Milton is in the middle. In the back, farthest from the street and protected by heavy double iron gates, is Danish Value Handling.

Today the company is a subsidiary of a Norwegian corporation, Nokas, which specializes in transporting valuable wares such as gold coins, paintings, and diamonds. But most of its business is picking up the money that stores have taken in each day, counting it, and putting it in the stores’ bank accounts. Millions in cash are also distributed from the center on Kornmarksvej to stock ATMs and cash registers throughout Copenhagen.

Exactly how this takes place is not something that Nokas wants to discuss; the company prefers to keep a low profile. “Let’s just say that we handle a lot of money,” Peter Junge, the company’s managing director, says. Before its acquisition in 2011, however, Danish Value Handling was not so reluctant to supply information. Anyone could visit the firm’s website and find photos of the company’s indoor video surveillance and the boxes used to transport valuables, the company’s location, a figure for how many billions of kroner it handled annually. After all, this was Denmark—a safe country.

A couple of miles east, across the Oresound Bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden, this openness would have been called naive. In the 1990s, when the number of simple robberies committed in Sweden began to fall due to improved bank security, Sweden experienced a mysterious increase in robberies of money transports. From 1994 to 1998, there were 30 to 40 of these robberies annually in Sweden. By 2002, the number had reached 66. When the European association of value-handling firms, ESTA, counted up the number of robberies in 2005, Sweden claimed the dubious honor of having had the most per capita of all European countries. Two hundred twenty-four transports and cash warehouses had been attacked in an organized manner between 1998 and 2004.

It wasn’t only the number of robberies that disturbed the Swedish people and drove the value-handling association to implore politicians to act. It was also how they were committed. In December 2002, an armed robber attacking a money transport in Tureberg, a suburb of Stockholm, shot at passersby and the police and placed a fake bomb in the transport vehicle. In August 2005, a vehicle smashed through the gates of a valuable-goods warehouse in Stockholm and got away with 26 million Swedish kronor. Several weeks later, the police were prevented from getting to the scene of a robbery because the robbers had placed burning cars all around the capital. A few months after that, heavily armed men attacked a valuables transport on a highway near the Stockholm suburb of Hallunda, forced the vehicle off the road, and blew it open with dynamite. Drivers and employees on the transports and in valuables centers went on strike to protest their dangerous working conditions.

No one has been able to explain unambiguously why the epidemic hit Sweden. Terrible security at the private transport companies, some claim. A certain type of immigrant with connections to Balkan organized crime, others say, pointing out the relatively high percentage of immigrants from the region and their descendants among those convicted. A third group—including some of the robbers themselves—believe it may simply be that success is contagious.

From 1998 to 2004, thieves had struck 93 cash transports and warehouses in Denmark, too—more than any country in Scandinavia besides Sweden. But the robberies in Denmark were mild-mannered compared with the paramilitary-style strikes in Sweden—until one day when, according to Bent Isager-Nielsen, the head of investigations for Copenhagen’s Western District, “Suddenly, they were here.”

On the night of Tuesday, April 1, 2008, half a dozen men armed with submachine guns forced their way into the Danish headquarters of Loomis, a value-handling company in Glostrup. They rammed the wall with a boom lift and broke through directly into Loomis’s vault, filled sacks with cash, and fled in dark Audis. Caltrops—clusters of metal spikes designed to puncture tires—were strewn over nearby streets, and a policeman in Copenhagen discovered a suitcase outside police headquarters containing two fake bombs. The take was 60 million kroner, and all clues pointed to Sweden. The Audis used in the theft came from Stockholm; their owners had been waylaid by armed men several months earlier.

The Loomis robbery was something new to Denmark. The size alone, plus the degree of organization and brutality, made it sensational. That was the investigation the Western District police were buried in when the report of uninvited guests in Milton’s warehouse reached a hard-pressed section at police headquarters, the division investigating organized crime.


The case of Milton’s rearranged shelves landed on the desk of Torben Lund, a 50-year-old chief inspector who was one of the few Western District investigators not already on the Loomis case. Lund had set out to be an office worker, not a policeman. He started as a junior clerk at the Danish Tax Administration, but the job lacked human contact and action, and when he was 22 he applied for a position with the police.

Lund is a neat, mild-mannered man, praised by his superiors for his patience, his dogged ability to motivate his detectives, and his obsessive grasp of details. When Lund went over the Milton case, everything looked suspicious to him. There had been eight alarms in nine days. That could be preparation for a spectacular robbery attempt. On the other hand, whoever had sneaked into Milton’s warehouse that summer had to know that the police were aware of it. Would they dare come back? Had they abandoned their plans? Were the break-ins actually failed robbery attempts?

The police discussed their next move. “We didn’t have the manpower or budget to sit out there 24-7 when they might never show up,” Isager-Nielsen says. “This type of robbery isn’t something that two officers in their slippers can handle. It requires specially trained personnel. But how long should these special forces sit there and wait? A week? A month or six months, maybe for nothing?”

The investigators met with executives from Danish Value Handling on July 30, 2008. The police explained what they had seen, how the Loomis robbery had taken place, what could happen to Danish Value Handling. The police had already increased their patrols on Kornmarksvej and asked G4S to contact their control center immediately if alarms went off in the building. The police also made the unusual suggestion of hooking up surveillance cameras with a direct link to the police station’s control center less than two miles away.

The managing director and the head of security at Danish Value Handling listened. They would set up the additional security equipment, they said. But they didn’t seem particularly nervous. They assured the police that they had the situation under control.

Three

There are eight or nine people at work at Danish Value Handling the night of Saturday, August 9. They are taking in boxes of money from drivers, registering the contents, and sending them on to the counting room and the vault, the door to which is wide open. For a long time now, they’ve been talking about the robbery of their Loomis colleagues in April. They’ve been joking about it. “Just wait, at some point someone is coming here, too,” they’ve said to each other. Some of them know about the break-in at their neighbors, Milton, two weeks ago. They’ve talked about how they should be careful, that they should be on the alert, whatever that means.

The first activity outside is registered on a surveillance recording at 2:52 a.m. A camera mounted in Milton’s warehouse, newly installed by the police, looks out across the warehouse interior toward a garage-style overhead door and a smaller door to its left, opening out onto the parking lot. Two figures in hoodies are visible through the overhead door’s windows, approaching cautiously. For several minutes, they scan the inside of the warehouse with powerful flashlights. A small forklift is illuminated. Then the men are gone, and a grainy darkness settles over the screen.

At 4:32 a.m., a light appears again through the windows of the overhead door. Searching. Curious. Two minutes later, a hoodie-clad man swings a crowbar and breaks the door’s lowest window. Two men squeeze through, and one of them examines the doorframe with his flashlight, then pushes a button and the door rolls open.

It’s been raining, and the men’s shoulders are wet. One of them walks near the surveillance camera. He is wearing grayish-blue coveralls with a marine blue bulletproof vest. A balaclava covers his face, and ski goggles are pushed up on his forehead. He has a submachine gun in his hand. He pulls the goggles down over his eyes and walks farther into the warehouse, over to the wall where the shelving was removed two weeks earlier.

At 4:35, a yellow front-end loader rolls into the warehouse. It is a 22-ton diesel Ljungby Maskin 2240, 282 horsepower, designed for logging and construction; it was stolen from a construction site a few hours earlier. It is 11 feet tall and 26 feet long. The shovel alone looks as if it could eat the little forklift outside in one greedy bite. The driver turns sharply to the left and maneuvers the machine into position. The exhaust pipe snorts black diesel smoke when he guns the engine. Twenty-two tons of steel crashes into the wall.

On the other side of the wall, in the Danish Value Holding facility, Niklas, the night-shift supervisor, hears a deep thunk—the kind that shakes a building and carries right on into a body. After a second thunk, he gets up to find out what’s going on. Plaster is falling from the wall separating the counting-room from Milton. The entire room seems to be moving. The Danish Value Handling employees start to run. “They’re coming!” someone yells.

The front-end loader thunders back and forth, slamming into the wall, coughing black smoke. A man in gray coveralls, black balaclava, and white sneakers stands behind it. He’s a big man, not tall, but his coveralls stretch so tightly out over his stomach that his fly is open. Dust fills the room as the loader rams into the wall for almost a minute. On the other side, ceiling tiles, plaster, and chunks of cement fall into the counting room. The 50-ton, cement-and-steel bank vault is being pushed to the right, bit by bit.

In the Milton warehouse, the three robbers look at their identical watches. At 4:39, the man in the middle lifts his automatic rifle into firing position and aims at the wall. Another man hops and claps his hands. The wall has been breached.

A red light shines in the blackness outside. Two dark Audis back up to the open overhead door, so close that one of the license plates, RY 34 265, is visible. The men, including the black-clad driver of the first Audi, grab hockey bags from the car, run past the loader, and squeeze through the hole in the wall.

The Danish Value Handling employees are now in Niklas’s supervisor’s office and watch the robbery unfold on a computer screen. They set off all the alarms and called the police. At the Western District station, the watch commander, Peter Grønbek Nielsen, and the others on duty follow every move the robbers make on their own screens. All the squad cars Nielsen has at his disposal are sent to the scene of the crime, though several of them have to find detours; as far as two miles away, burning garbage trucks block intersections. Some squad cars report flat tires from caltrops.

The counters in Niklas’s office exchange a few nervous words. “These men must have known where the vault was,” one woman says. “They couldn’t have broken through any closer.” She turns away from the monitor in fright; a masked man is on the screen carrying a Kalashnikov.

The men in coveralls work quickly in the dust-filled room in front of the vault. They lay their guns down and stuff cash into the hockey bags, which they haul out to the cars two at a time. A million kroner in 100-kroner bills weighs 11 pounds; the bags look as if they weigh 80 or 100 pounds each. One of the men looks at his watch again. Twelve minutes have passed since the first window was broken. It’s time. The man in the ski goggles and bulletproof vest picks his automatic weapon up off the floor and squeezes through the hole and back into the Milton warehouse. The Audis take off. It’s 4:46 a.m.


Patrol commander Brian Holm Larsen is in the first squad car to arrive at Danish Value Handling. On the radio he hears other officers curse burning trucks and flat tires. By now, Larsen thinks to himself, the robbers have been here so long that they must assume the police have arrived or at least are nearby; they must have a plan for this situation. There’s no sense in playing Rambo now. He slips into a bulletproof vest and turns on his flashing blue lights. The officers in the other squad cars that have made it to the scene do the same. “They’re leaving now,” says a scratchy voice over the police radio at headquarters. Brian looks up and spots a light moving close to Danish Value Handling.


When the G4S security guard, René Rejnholdt Pedersen, pulls into Danish Value Handling, he thinks for a brief moment that the police must have beat him here. Three cars with lights on are coming toward him from the opposite direction as he pulls in behind the Milton building. He steps halfway out his car door to greet them, but Pedersen quickly realizes he’s mistaken. A stocky man in the passenger seat of the leading Audi points a gun at him; he’s parked in their way.

Pedersen nudges his car into reverse, and the Audis drive past him and out onto Kornmarksvej. They hesitate a second. At one end of the industrial zone, to the right, flashing blue lights are visible. Pedersen hears the cars rev their engines. The Audis peel out and turn left. And then they’re gone.


At 4:49 a.m., Nielsen walks into the Milton warehouse alone, illuminated by a squad car’s headlights, gun drawn. He can neither hear nor see anyone. All he sees is the back end of a front-end loader, resting in a chaos of smashed-up bricks, plaster, and torn money wrapping.


Torben Lund is awakened by the phone at his home in the Copenhagen suburbs. It’s happened—they took down DVH, an on-duty officer tells him. The robbers and their getaway cars vanished; several squad cars pursued the two Audis when they drove onto the freeway heading west, but when speeds reached 120 miles per hour, the police in their Ford sedans were forced to abandon the chase. The Audis haven’t been seen on any of the bridges leading away from Copenhagen. The robbers have disappeared.

The counting room is more or less destroyed. The money counters, in shock, aren’t much help. Technicians in white coveralls use tweezers, brushes, and plastic bags to comb through the mess of dropped bills and cement dust, hoping to find even a single clue to help the police get started.

Lund sighs deeply. The investigation now starting, which he has been placed in charge of, could mean months or even years of detective work. Early on this Sunday morning, the police don’t even know how much the robbers have stolen.

Four

The men sit in a living room, counting money. There are several of them, seated around a coffee table in a house they don’t own on Sealand, Denmark’s largest island, early on the morning of August 11. They took over the house simply because they could. The owner, Bjarne, didn’t dare say no to them.

The living room is filthy. The furniture and floors are sticky, the corners are filled with trash, and the smell is nauseating. Bjarne is in his sixties, thin and grubby, with a long beard. He drinks—a lot, as much as three cases of beer a day—and forgets about everything else. The men know that, these men who came busting into the farmhouse early on a Sunday morning.

Bjarne has retired to the kitchen to do his morning drinking. He doesn’t dare do anything else. He barely knows this gang of muscular young men, and now they’re sitting in his living room with their hockey bags like they own the place. One of them comes into the kitchen and grabs the television. He hauls it into the living room, and they turn it on to the teletext news-bulletin station. Bjarne doesn’t let himself hear what they talk about or see what they do. This is not good company, he thinks, not for him and not for John, his almost 40-year-old son.

Another man arrives with food from McDonald’s for the whole gang. This is the man Bjarne knows best—the only one he knows by name, in fact. Marco, he’s called. He’s obviously the gang’s gofer; the others order him around. Nevertheless, Bjarne is afraid of him.

Once, when he was a teenager, Bjarne’s eldest son, Hans, went on a shooting spree at a carnival in Copenhagen. He was thrown in jail and charged with assault with intent to kill, but he escaped. While on the run, drunk and high on pills, he killed his girlfriend with an ax. Many years later, when Hans was out on temporary release and went to visit his parents, he brought along a friend from prison. That’s how the family met Marco.

Bjarne had reluctantly given Marco permission to store some things in a room at the farm. What it was, Bjarne didn’t know. Fishing gear, maybe? Marco seemed to like to fish down by the gravel-pit lake across the road. To repay the favor, Marco brought some cheap booze and strong beer from a low-price store across the border in Germany, and everybody was happy for a while.

Bjarne sees something light up in the yard. Marco has lit a fire, and one of the visitors, a dark-skinned man, comes into the kitchen and pulls some bills out of his pocket, hundred-kroner or maybe thousand-kroner notes. Bjarne doesn’t want the money.


Maxim Bar, near Copenhagen’s Central Station train depot in Vesterbro, the city’s old red-light district, doesn’t try to hide what business it’s in. Shapely women writhe on the facade’s posters facing the street. Inside, the dim lights illuminate a 1980s-vintage Asian-themed interior: a golden Buddha here, a gold lamé curtain there, flower-print sofas. If you look closely in the faint light, you’ll notice that the sofas’ upholstery has seen much better days, but the Maxim Bar is still one of Copenhagen’s most expensive strip clubs. If you have the money, regulars say, you have first dibs on taking a woman back to your hotel room.

Katarina is one of the women. She’s young, in her late twenties maybe, dark-haired, Polish, and doesn’t know many people in Copenhagen other than the girls and bodyguards from the bar. On the evening of Sunday, August 10, she strikes up a conversation with a man from Sweden. He and his three or four friends are hard to miss when they show up at Maxim early that evening. His name is Chris, he tells her in English. He’s very tall, around six foot eight and muscular, 28 years old with a blondish beard. He has a business back home in Sweden that’s doing very well, he says. Katarina thinks he’s a nice guy, and he says she’s the only good-looking girl in the bar. The others look like transvestites, he says.

His friends are less easygoing, and as he keeps knocking back the booze, Chris gets rowdier, too. They all behave as if they’re celebrating something. One of the men in particular, a big guy dressed in sports clothing and sitting on a sofa, is loud; he really doesn’t need any more to drink, Katarina thinks. One of the others, a Danish-speaking guy who’s high on coke and has a loose false tooth and a tattoo of a girl’s name on his arm, is talking to Samira, a champagne girl from South America. He’s buying her vodkas.

Money is flowing; the false-toothed man goes up to the bar and buys a magnum of champagne for 4,000 kroner. Everyone who comes into Maxim that night gets handed a glass of champagne—even complete strangers. Chris and his merry band pay with thousand-kroner notes and tip every time. Chris is wearing loose pants, bodybuilder style. No wallet. Bills begin falling out of his pockets as he gets drunk. A bundle of thousand-kroner bills lands on the floor and Katarina picks it up. At least 50,000 kroner, she thinks.

It’s late when they leave the bar. Katarina is with Chris, and Samira meets up with the false-toothed man later. They disappear into the night, each to their own hotel room for a few hours. The men have stopped looking over their shoulders. They have been reading the news online; the police hunting them, they know, have no leads. 

Five

The Western District police station is awash in recriminations. Several investigators believe that a SWAT unit should have dug in at Danish Value Holding after the Milton break-in; at the very least, a police car should have been stationed on Kornmarksvej. Instead, the police have been thrown onto the field in a match where the robbers have already won the first half.

Judging from the known facts, the police are looking for at least 15 and in all likelihood 20 to 25 robbers. Besides the six men on the surveillance videos, the police reason that there must be at least one driver for every garbage truck and several others to help the drivers get away.

A burned-up Audi is found on Herstedøstervej, near the crime scene. No immediate clues there. It turns out it was stolen several months earlier from an auto-repair shop on the nearby island of Fyn. The trucks that were burned around the district hold more promise. All of them were stolen a few hours before the robbery from the M. Larsen trucking company on Vibeholmsvej, a couple of miles from Danish Value Handling. The torched vehicles are hauled into the police crime lab. In one of them, investigators find a pair of gloves that reek of gasoline but aren’t completely burned up.

Otherwise, the technicians get very little from the crime scene. There’s the front-end loader; it was stolen from a nearby construction site, but there are no fingerprints or DNA found on it. The surveillance tapes from Danish Value Handling and Milton show balaclavas, gloved hands, and coverall-clad male bodies that could belong to anyone.

Torben Lund and his investigators decide they must cast a wider net; they must go to the media. Someone out there must have seen something. As the fragments of information begin to pile up, the police can’t help but regard the robbers with a certain amount of respect. The organization, the planning, the details the thieves had to have known about—the building layout, the security company’s routines, how the garbage trucks were operated, the routes the police took to respond to emergencies—it must have taken months of preparation.

The robbers may have won the first half. But the second half is about to begin. 

containersg-1399314706-58.png
(PHOTO: DANISH NATIONAL POLICE)

Six

Bo from Sengeløse, a small town near Copenhagen, could have ended up in the “irrelevant” pile of police leads. He is the 58-year-old manager at a small gravel pit 19 miles west of the city, located among green fields and horse pastures between Sengeløse and the freeway. You’d have to know it was there or you wouldn’t notice it. But on the morning of Monday, August 11, Bo’s workers call, saying they’re up on the road and can’t get in. The chain lock on the gate was changed, for the second time in two weeks.

It’s annoying and also quite bizarre. Material and fuel being stolen from work sites is nothing unusual, but this pit is almost worked out and seldom in use. And why would thieves lock it up? Even more questions pop up when Bo arrives at the gravel pit. Bo’s company has two 40-foot shipping containers on-site, temporary garages for smaller equipment. Two weeks ago, their chain locks were cut. Vandalism, Bo thought at the time, but it didn’t matter much; the containers were empty.

Now they have chain locks on them again. “This is damn strange,” Bo says to his boss.

Torben Lund doesn’t think the call from Sengeløse is important when a young detective brings it to his attention. It’s Monday, August 11, only 24 hours after the robbery, and many other things are more pressing. But—and this is what caught the detective’s attention—the man who called the police, Bo, mentioned that the chain locks had also been changed two weeks ago, the same weekend the shelving had been moved at Milton. “Send a few people out there,” Lund says.

His phone rings an hour later. The detectives in the gravel pit are on to something.

Hidden inside the containers are two Audis with stolen license plates. One of the plates matches the one visible on the surveillance tape from Danish Value Handling. The police also find empty plastic sacks, ripped-up cardboard boxes, and other packing materials from Danish Value Handling—and two bulletproof vests.

While forensics experts have the cars towed away, the detectives talk. Why didn’t the robbers torch the Audis? Were they planning to use the cars again? Will they come back to pick them up? Do they dare?

Before the end of the day, the investigators have a plan. The police put new chain locks on the containers, with the same combinations as the old ones. Twenty-four-hour surveillance will be put in place, and a SWAT team will sit at the gravel pit while others patrol the area and stay on the lookout.

It’s a long shot.


With the SWAT team in position in Sengeløse, the investigators try to make sense of the other leads. Several pieces of evidence point to Sweden, or at least to a Swedish connection. It turns out that the three Audis from the gravel pit were stolen near Stockholm in May, three months before the robbery.

A security guard at Nokia’s corporate office in Copenhagen’s Sydhavn district, meanwhile, reported seeing something strange on a security camera early on the morning of August 10. A white van with Swedish license plates rolled into the parking lot, and the driver turned off the engine. The security guard zoomed in on the van. The driver, a dark-skinned man wearing a white jacket, got out of the vehicle. A light-skinned man with short dark hair got out of the passenger side and looked around; noticing the surveillance camera, he lifted the plastic sack in his hand and held it awkwardly in front of his face. After abandoning the van, the two men left the parking lot, nodded to each other, and walked off in opposite directions.

When the police take a look at the van, they discover that it was also stolen in Sweden, from a cemetery in Malmö in July. It seems to be the same van that Stine—the bartender who ran into the flaming barricade on her drive home Sunday morning—saw the man in the hoodie climb into after he had spread fire and caltrops onto the freeway.

seizure5-1398730347-79.jpg
(Photo: Danish National Police)

Seven

A few minutes after 5 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, August 16, a week after the Danish Value Handling robbery, a dark Audi pulls off the highway and stops in front of the barrier to the gravel pit in Sengeløse. A man who looks to be about 40 gets out of the car. He has dark hair and is dressed neatly in jeans, a white T-shirt, and a black sport coat. He walks around to the passenger side, takes out a bolt cutter, and runs over to the barrier, which is secured with a thick chain and lock. The man presses with all his might to clip the chain, goes down on his knees in what looks like a parody of a bodybuilder’s squat, then tries a new position. The chain finally gives. Immediately, the man looks back toward the highway.

Three minutes later, four more men show up at the gravel pit’s containers. The SWAT team springs to attention. They’ve been watching for five days; finally something is happening.

The men are dressed in baggy jeans and sneakers. All of them wear white gloves. One of them is holding a plastic bag. Another has several license plates under his arm. The men open the combination locks. When they open the first container door, one of them peers inside. Even from a distance you can see his jolt of astonishment; the container is completely empty. The men rush over and throw open the other container—empty. Their shoulders fall.

As the men move to leave, the police have a choice to make. Should they arrest the men now, or risk everything and see where the men lead them? The decision is made more out of necessity than strategy; the police don’t have enough backup in place to step in at this moment. They have to buy some time.

The five men squeeze into the Audi. When the car pulls away and heads toward Copenhagen, it has company: unmarked police cars, hidden in the sparse Saturday traffic. The man in the white shirt makes a phone call on the way. Obviously, somebody has to be told about what happened at the gravel pit.

The man in the sport coat pulls into Sydhavn rail station, and his passengers get out. Two plainclothes policemen follow on foot. Before the doors of the Copenhagen commuter train close, they hop aboard, unseen by the four men.

The men get off the train in the center of the city, stop at a 7-Eleven, and walk toward the Vesterbro district. The police note that the men are in good spirits again, strangely enough. Much better than could be expected.

Later that evening, guests mill around the marble lobby of the Scandic Hotel, a popular tourist accommodation near Central Station. Among the well-heeled visitors, three young men sit in the lobby’s plush lounge chairs. They’ve ordered drinks. At 6:31 p.m., the man in the white shirt from the gravel pit walks up to the front desk.

Seconds later, two men—one in shorts, the other wearing a cap, a hoodie, and camouflage pants—storm into the lobby. A third man in jeans and a hoodie runs up toward the man at the desk, who barely has time to pull his hands out of his pockets before he is shoved up against the desk. Several more armed police burst into the lobby. The three men in lounge chairs are pushed down onto the floor. It’s over in less than a minute.


While the arrests at the hotel take place, an unmarked police car follows the Audi as it leaves Sydhavn station. After making a stop at an apartment complex in Copenhagen’s Valby district, the driver—the man in the sport coat—leaves the city with the police tailing him. The officers still haven’t decided whether to arrest him when the Audi surprises them by exiting the freeway at Sengeløse and heading back toward the gravel pit. The police try to stay as close as possible, but the road curves once, twice, and the Audi disappears. The officers drive farther on, then turn around and race back. They can’t understand it. There are so damn few roads out here to turn off on, how…?

They lost him.

Then the Audi pulls onto the road from a driveway to an old bright yellow farmhouse, heading back toward the highway. This time the plainclothes officers take no chances. When the car pulls into a gas station in Karlslunde, the officers calmly walk up to the dark-haired man in the sport coat.

It’s August 16, 6:44 p.m., and Marco Kristiansen is under arrest.

seizure2-1398728347-76.jpg
(Photo: Danish National Police)

Eight

The five men appear at a preliminary hearing on Sunday, August 17, 2008, a week after the robbery at Danish Value Handling. Marco Kristiansen, a 40-year-old Dane, is a convicted rapist with a past as a motorcycle gang hanger-on and is the father of two children. The man in the white shirt at the gravel pit is Christoffer Wallin, a 28-year-old Swede with a six-year-old son and a younger stepdaughter. He’s just out of prison, having done time for seven robberies.

The three other men, all in their twenties, prove to be less of a catch. One has proof he was at home in Sweden on the night of the robbery. Another was in jail. A kind of out-of prison party had been held the day before for one of the young men at a Stockholm pub where, the three men tell police, Wallin had offered them easy money—20,000 kroner per man—to fly to Copenhagen with him the next morning, pick up three Audis, and drive them back to Sweden. After arriving in Denmark on August 16, they waited for Marco Kristiansen at the Central Station, then drove out together to Sengeløse. That was it. At most they can be charged with handling stolen goods.

The police turn their attention to Wallin. He doesn’t want to talk; he answers questions evasively, shrugs his shoulders, or stays silent. He denies any involvement in the robbery, saying that he had been given money to pick up three cars.

The police don’t believe him. They ask Swedish police to search his family’s apartment in Stockholm. Interesting things turn up: a parking ticket from Town Hall Square in Copenhagen dated August 8, 2008; a ticket for an adult and one child for a ride at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens amusement park on August 9; and a white plastic key card from the Radisson Blu Royal, also in Copenhagen.

Wallin admits he was in Copenhagen around August 11, but not to do a robbery; it was a last-minute vacation with his kids, he says. Where had he, his girlfriend, and their two kids stayed that weekend? the police ask. Wallin can’t remember. The police question his girlfriend, who had no opportunity to coordinate her statements with him. She, too, can’t remember the name of the hotel the family stayed in, but she does recall that it was close to the Central Station, and also that there was a sign advertising tequila shots for ten kroner on its facade.


While Wallin keeps his mouth shut, Marco Kristiansen babbles his head off—that is, when the mood strikes him. Sometimes he says much more than anyone wants to listen to. Kristiansen is on the ropes. The police searched his residence in Fredericia, a couple hours’ drive west of Copenhagen, and his sister’s home in Valby. They found cell phones, phone cards, and a laptop. They also found a sheet of lined paper with clumsy cursive handwriting and spelling errors, a strange shopping list:

Lamps/lights for the roof. 3 pairs handcuffs. 10 pr ovralls size l and xl, 2 spades, 1 shuvel, 1 Gps … 3 knives, 2 hobby knives, 1 gas can 10 liters, plastic strips, … 10 cans teargas/pepper spray … 10 hairnets, 1 vacuum machine/bags. 1 ladder, 1 bolt cutter.

The police also turned up an Archos video recorder. At first glance, there appeared to be nothing on it, but the IT division discovered two grainy, deleted recordings. One file was recorded on March 15, 2008, the other a week later, on March 22.

On one recording, the video camera is attached to a rod that is lowered into Danish Value Handling’s warehouse through a broken skylight. The camera turns around like a curious eye, peering through ductwork and spiderwebs as it documents the layout of the room. On the other recording, the camera follows a Danish Value Handling employee, a driver who walks back and forth, emptying his vehicle of cash boxes, unaware that he’s being filmed from the roof.

Police investigators are positive that it’s Kristiansen’s whispery walkie-talkie voice that says “Someone’s coming.” The question is whose thick-accented voice answers from up on the roof: “OK, Marco, lemme work, lemme work… I’ll be down in ten minutes.”


Another detail nags at the police: Where was Kristiansen when he was out of sight of the unmarked police car tailing him out by the gravel pit? Was he in the yellow farmhouse?

Kristiansen denies it. He thought he was being tailed, he says, and turned into an unfamiliar driveway to shake his pursuers. The police don’t believe him, so a patrol is sent out to the farm. If the place seems suspicious, or if there is even a microscopic connection to Kristiansen, the officers have permission to search it.

Shortly after, the officers call in to headquarters. “It’s totally impossible out here,” one of them says.

The property had several additions built over the years, rented out to small businesses, which store tools, stock, and all kinds of junk there. A man and his son live in the rundown farmhouse itself. Bjarne is the father, John the son, and they are a pitiful sight. Nice enough, genuinely shocked by the police who are there to turn their home upside down, but also thin and unkempt. The father in particular is so drunk that the police occasionally worry that he’ll fall down and pass out.

Books are turned upside down, desks taken apart, trash cans overturned and their contents sifted through. After a sort of zoological discussion, a terrarium with snakes and other reptiles is emptied out. The search takes 30 officers two days. Almost all the rented storage sheds contain nothing of importance; only one, a small structure in a corner of the farm, catches their attention. After breaking down the door, the team finds comforters, coffee cups, a cake tin; someone has spent the night here. They also find three Kalashnikovs, a sawed-off shotgun, a bomb detonator and military-exercise explosives, three bulletproof vests, coveralls, balaclavas, a bag of PUC codes for Swedish cell phones, an owner’s manual for an Audi, a receipt for two expensive suitcases bought in Copenhagen, a pair of binoculars, work gloves, a Glock pistol, and small drawings with French captions.

When he’s questioned about this trove of evidence, Bjarne says he knows Kristiansen, yes, through his eldest son, the convicted murderer, but he knows nothing about any robbery. It’s difficult for the police not to believe this old man, who is shaking from withdrawal.

In the front yard are signs of a recent fire. There are dozens of twisted, charred pieces of cell phones, clumps of rebar—which, besides being used to reinforce concrete, can be cut up to make caltrops—and a handwritten note in which the numbers from one to sixty have been written and crossed out, as someone counting millions might do. The police are certain: this is the robbers’ hideout.

The media are in a frenzy over these new developments. But suddenly the police are being less informative; the investigations unit has a different agenda now. There are at least 15 criminals at large who, with the arrest of Wallin and Kristiansen, have now been given a warning as loud as a car alarm. The police assume that the conspirators, and the 60 or 70 million kroner they’ve made off with, are on their way out of Scandinavia.

seizure4-1398729727-62.jpg
(Photo: Danish National Police)

Nine

Dorthe Mørch’s stomach begins to ache early Sunday morning when she hears about the big robbery. She had the same reaction several times before, whenever there was news about a cash heist. Each time she thought, It’s him. Her ex-boyfriend.

The last time it happened was the Loomis robbery on April 1. It’s Tayeb, she thought. It turned out not to be, but it was a bit worrying that he didn’t even resent that she thought that about him—that she thought he was the type who would commit a robbery. In fact he seemed irritated that someone else had gotten away with millions from Loomis. The robbery was “fucking mine,” he said.

Now, four months after the Loomis job, an almost identical heist. She has a bad feeling about it. Tayeb calls that day and asks if she’ll pick him up at the station in Nyborg. He wants to visit her for a few days in Odense, the city in central Denmark where she lives, just as they had planned. He sounds calm on the phone, like himself. He’s just fine, he says when Mørch asks. Everything is fine. Mørch crams her waist-high Doberman, Mozart, into her VW Lupo and takes off.

Not many people understand her relationship with Tayeb Si M’rabet, Mørch knows. Sometimes she doesn’t understand it herself. She’s both tough and vulnerable, a thin girl with mousy hair and a nose piercing; she met the self-assured, brown-eyed Si M’rabet at a time when she had few others to help her out. This was in 1999. She was very young then, she’d been thrown out of her home—her father had just died, she was lonely, and she couldn’t hold on to any of the jobs that came her way.

It wasn’t love at first sight when they met at a café in Odense. In fact, it’s possible they’d always had more of a sibling-like relationship. They’d formed an alliance; she was an outsider, a black sheep who would rather be with her dogs than with other people, while he had come to Europe from Algeria on his own—a stowaway on a cargo ship, as he so colorfully told her.

He was rarely in contact with his family—almost never. One day, after Mørch pressed him about it, he called his relatives in Algeria. He was told that his mother had died several years earlier.

But Si M’rabet took care of Mørch, seven years his junior, whenever he was with her, and also when her hemophilia gave her serious problems. He called her Pumpkin, and he cleaned her house from the top of the attic to the bottom of her cupboards. He brought her gifts. Some of them were hot, and she wasn’t happy about that, but the thought was what counted.

Si M’rabet and Mørch confided in each other, and she loved him. She doesn’t shy away from saying that he became the love of her life. He did tell her of his escapades on the wrong side of the law. They were numerous: when he felt talkative, he related incredible stories about prison escapes, threats, and money hidden away in strangers’ kitchen-range hoods. She knew he’d been convicted several times for, among other things, two cash-transport robberies, making threats, and possession of illegal firearms.

He had also been permanently exiled from Denmark. Twice. But he wasn’t worried about that. Once, two officers had put him on a plane to France, where he was a citizen. Mørch went along. As soon as they landed in Paris, they took a train back to Denmark. Denmark seemed to be an obsession for him. Why, Mørch still can’t explain.

Suddenly, a few years after they’d begun their relationship, he disappeared. She looked for several days, and finally she found him in jail in Malmö, Sweden, arrested for “something about some AK-47 rifles.” The most important thing to Mørch was that she’d found him. She and Si M’rabet always found each other. After his release, they moved in with each other and bought a puppy, Mozart.

Mørch, closing in on thirty in 2004, could easily live with Si M’rabet’s skeletons in the closet. A cop had looked her up and warned her about hanging around him; “He’ll get you in trouble someday,” he’d said. Mørch scoffed at the fatherly advice. Her philosophy in life, she says, is to judge people on how they treat her and only her.

As time went on, however, it became harder to endure Si M’rabet’s talk at the dinner table about the robberies he dreamed of committing. He thought it would be so great if the two of them, Tayeb and Dorthe, could become a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. He asked Mørch strange questions about explosives, about bulletproof vests, phone jammers, and armored glass; she sometimes worked as a security guard. It seemed odd to Mørch, because she didn’t have the impression that he’d grown up in traumatizing poverty or was particularly preoccupied with money. He seemed to be more focused on becoming number one—becoming famous for his skill at robbery, gaining respect in the only circles where he could find a job.

Mørch found it tiresome. “So go do it. Do your robbery, or shut up about it!” she would tell him. She could be sarcastic; she’d tell him that she was ready to drive him to the robbery and pick him up afterward, and pay for the gas out of her own pocket, if he’d just shut up. Then he’d be hostile to her for a while. His eyes would turn to stone until he calmed down. She always forgave him, partly because she herself could be stubborn and hot-tempered. But Si M’rabet became more unstable. He would disappear for longer periods of time. There were also other women. Finally, in 2007, she asked him to move out of their row house in Odense, but they remained soul mates of a sort: two people who despite everything could count on each other.

This is why there is nothing unusual about him coming to visit her on this day in August 2008, even though Mørch has since met another man. Lovers or not, Mørch knows that she is the only one who is really concerned about Si M’rabet. She is the closest thing he has to family in Denmark.

But Mørch knows something is wrong the moment Si M’rabet gets into the car. He seems to be under pressure. Restless. He’s carrying a cardboard box that he says is full of money. He wants to show her the bills, but he’s evasive about where it’s from. He took it from some Swedes on a farm, he says.

Mørch begins to panic. It’s not right to just take money from somebody, she says. And no, she doesn’t want to see it. She doesn’t want the money in her red Lupo or back at her place. She refuses to drive anywhere.

That makes Si M’rabet very angry, in a way that Mørch has seen only a few times before. He sticks a gun right under Mørch’s nose, she recounts later. She cries—though not because she believes he’ll shoot her. She’s hurt that he could involve her in this, whatever it is. She feels that some undefinable line has been crossed forever.

She puts the Lupo in gear. Si M’rabet with his box of money sits in the front seat as they drive back to her house while Mozart wriggles around in his cage in the back. He loves Si M’rabet, too.

Ten


Back home in Odense, Mørch tries to smooth things over, as she usually does. She just wants everything to be nice and cozy, light, like in the old days. It almost works, though Si M’rabet acts like a caged lion—he can’t sit still for more than a few minutes. He plays with Mozart and goes along to visit Mørch’s sick mother. Mørch reciprocates by agreeing to drive him to Copenhagen, to the Nørrebro district, where he takes care of a few things while she waits in the car. She has a feeling that he’s exchanging money. There are places in Nørrebro where no one asks questions about amounts that exceed the legal limits.

Mørch doesn’t dare ask where the money comes from. Several days after the robbery, Danish Value Handling has calculated their loss. Si M’rabet reads it on the Internet: according to police, the robbers made off with 62 million kroner. “They don’t know what they’re talking about, the pigs. It was over 70 million!” Tayeb says. He also talks about “my friend Longi,” who screwed things up when he parked a truck someplace. And about a Marco, who “can’t do shit except pick up food.” Mørch hears this but doesn’t want to know anything about it. The week passes by in a fog.

On August 18, Si M’rabet proposes that they drive to France. He needs an Algerian passport, he says. Mørch brightens up. They’ve been to Paris before to take care of his papers; usually they have good times together there. Normal times.

OK, she says, but she has two conditions. He has to go along with her to the dentist when they get back. Several years ago she knocked seven of her teeth out while riding a horse, and she has finally found a dentist who will take on the job of replacing her temporary dentures with permanent teeth. But she is nervous about the operation and wants him to come along, and he makes her feel safe. He promises to do it.

The second condition is that she won’t allow him to bring the money along. And she will search the bags and the car before they leave Odense. Si M’rabet is enraged. He storms out into the yard, finds a spade, and starts working.


When Mørch wakes up in the hotel room in Paris, she hardly knows where she is. Somewhere close to Gare du Nord, probably. Si M’rabet is gone. She closes her eyes, still tired from the 16-hour drive. When she wakes up again, he’s back.

He has a bag. He’s been out in the city to meet up with a friend, Ripa, a nervous creature who smokes way too much hashish. Ripa also drove from Odense, following a couple hundred miles behind their red Lupo. Now that the bag has arrived, Si M’rabet sent Ripa home without so much as a thank you.

They were en route to Paris, halfway across Germany—without the box of money, according to Mørch—when a breaking-news text beeped on Mørch’s phone: a possible breakthrough in the Danish Value Handling case. Investigators had found the robbers’ hideout near Sengeløse, and it was full of weapons and abandoned articles. The text sent Si M’rabet into a panic inside the tiny car. It was the farm where he’d found the box of money; he’d also touched some weapons there, he said. The panic spread like an airborne virus to Mørch. Will the police be waiting when we get home?

Si M’rabet promised over and over again that it couldn’t possibly happen. Now he’s sitting in the hotel room breaking a different promise: He tells Mørch to drive home, alone. She doesn’t need to help him with his Algerian papers. He put an envelope containing money in her refrigerator. For gas and maybe a new muzzle for Mozart.

“But what about the dentist?” Mørch asks. She weeps all the way home.

Goddammit, he’d promised to go with her to the dentist.

Eleven

It’s not hard for the Copenhagen police to spot the hotel with the “Tequila 10—” sign. This has to be it, two blocks from the Scandic Hotel: Here on Victoriagade in the Vesterbro district, squeezed in between a lesbian club and the intersecting street, Vesterbrogade, lies Hotel Metropol and its bar, Touché.

This place isn’t for kids; even its employees call it sleazy. That’s why most of them noticed the Swedish-speaking family who had checked in on Friday, August 8. The couple had two small children, a boy and a girl, who played out in the dingy halls. Normally, the receptionist would recommend to such a family and the two men who accompanied them that they find a place more suitable to children. But, the receptionist explains to the police questioning her, the men who booked the rooms—one for the family, one for them—were desperate. Copenhagen’s fashion week had begun two days before, and all the other hotels were booked.

The receptionist looks in her registration book. There: The name was Vallin, Room 2, 650 kroner per night. The family’s two friends—a six-foot-four, bald, dark-skinned man in camouflage pants that hung so low that his Björn Borg undershorts were visible, and a somewhat older white man, a fat blue-collar type—were registered in Room 6 under the name Jonson. The receptionist says she saw them haul athletic bags up to their rooms. Long bags, like those used by hockey players.

One of the guests sticks out in her mind. Vallin, a very tall, muscular man with tattoos on his arms, wanted to pay in advance for two nights, both rooms. He pulled a wad of thousand-kroner bills out of his bodybuilder jeans and tossed 3,000 kroner on the desk. “Behåll växeln,” he said—keep the change. A 400-kroner tip for nothing.

Later that weekend, when the receptionist saw the group in the hotel bar, Vallin was waving around wads of money—maybe 10,000 kroner in all, she guessed. The bartender, Alfredo, remembers that he got 50 or 100 kroner every time he did something as simple as pour a beer. It was as if the Swedes were rich or celebrating something. Even before the woman and two children went home the following Monday, Vallin boasted about picking up a prostitute and having a good time with her at another hotel.

It might have been the generous and high-spirited style of the men at the Hotel Metropol that made them so popular there; several other men visiting them went in and out of the hotel. And a Danish-speaking man with dark hair and a tattoo on one forearm had checked in to the hotel and joined them.

Vallin’s name and description match. The team of investigators are certain that it was the man now in custody, Christoffer Wallin, who reserved the rooms. But who are the others: Jonson, the fat man, and the tattooed man who spoke Danish?


A Danish law passed in 2006, known as the Data Retention Directive, compels telecommunications companies to register practically all cell-phone activity on their networks. It’s this new law that investigators put their faith in after their breakthrough of finding the hideout. What follows is the most comprehensive analysis of phone traffic Danish police have ever attempted.   

The police collect data from the towers around Danish Value Handling, the police headquarters in Albertslund where the two burning trucks were placed, and M. Larsen, where the 11 garbage trucks were stolen. As the data are organized, 18 phone numbers stick out from the rest. They have conspicuously common characteristics: Several of them are in numerical order. Most of them were used shortly before the robbery took place and apparently haven’t been used since. They were in contact with each other on the night of the robbery but seldom with anyone else.

Torben Lund’s investigators dub the 18 numbers the DVH phones, for Danish Value Handling. They take a closer look at the calling patterns. It appears that DVH8 and DVH10 made short but numerous calls to the other DVH phones, which were waiting at several places, including an indoor swimming pool and a supermarket. After this chain of calls, the garbage trucks were driven to their destinations and set on fire. The police conclude that the men using the DVH8 and DVH10 phones must be the ones who set the robbery in motion.

The police repeat the entire data-mining procedure with the “prep operations,” as they dubbed the strange break-in at Milton, the spying done from the roof, and the theft of the front-end loader, which the police found parked and abandoned a week before the robbery. The investigators find with a certain satisfaction that, once again, 18 phones stick out.

The traffic on the phones that Christoffer Wallin, Marco Kristiansen, and the three young Swedes had on them when they were arrested at the Scandic Hotel must also be analyzed. There’s also a pattern of phone numbers used for short communications in the period right after the robbery. But the laborious spreadsheet hunt is necessary to answer the decisive question: Who had the phones in their hands?


The suspicious material from Bjarne and John’s farmhouse is examined for fingerprints. The gloves that survived the fire in one of the garbage trucks are sent to the lab for DNA analysis, along with some possible evidence that arrived the day after the robbery. Early that Sunday morning, a woman in Brøndby was checking on her garden when she found a bundle of clothes there: a gray Adidas hooded sweatshirt, a blue Yankees cap, and a pair of work gloves. There were several more pairs of gloves by her toolshed.

The hoodie and the cap don’t immediately yield a DNA match, nor do the gloves from the truck. Only when Torben Lund’s investigators request that the DNA profiles be run through the Swedish database does something show up: There is biological material on the clothes from Daniel Stokic, a 23-year-old self-described hashish smoker who still lives with his parents in Malmö. And on the gloves are traces of DNA from Igor Jakovjev, also 23 and from Malmö, a known master thief.

Meanwhile, the lab reports on the fingerprints on a mug and a coffee can found at the farmhouse hideout come back with two names. One is Lahoucine Mahrir, a 29-year-old Moroccan-born man living in Denmark whose friends call him Longi, a known pickpocket and small-time criminal. The other set of fingerprints, on a spray can of gun oil and the trigger of a Kalashnikov, belong to a man convicted of robbery and later deported from Denmark: a 38-year-old French-Algerian named Tayeb Si M’rabet.

seizure3-1398286055-29.jpg
(Photo: Danish National Police)

Twelve

Frederik Nielsen is about to go nuts. He has been put through a lot in his career as a police investigator, but what he has to listen to on this Saturday night takes the cake. The woman is singing. In fact she’s in the middle of something like a 40-minute karaoke session of children’s songs on the computer. A friend of hers on the other end of the line is peeping along.

The woman doesn’t have the world’s greatest voice, Nielsen is thinking. But there’s nothing to be done about it; he has to listen to everything she says on the phone and the computer in her row house in Odense. He’s reaching his breaking point when he hears a strange beep.

“So, you’re going to talk to two people on two phones?” asks the man she’s been talking to.

“Nah, it’s just my retardo ex calling,” the woman says.

The police have been listening in on Dorthe Mørch for quite some time. As soon as Tayeb Si M’rabet’s name came up in the investigation, her name followed. She was marked down as his ex-girlfriend, her home as Si M’rabet’s favorite place to hang out.

The DNA and fingerprint analyses have added four more names to the list of people who most likely were in on the robbery: Stokic, Jakovjev, Mahrir, and Si M’rabet. The problem is that the investigators have no idea where the two North African men, Mahrir and Si M’rabet, are. The theory is that they left Denmark, but where to? Africa? Asia? The North Pole? Nobody knows. As far as the two Swedes, Stokic and Jakovjev, are concerned, tactics must be carefully considered. If a Danish-Swedish police action against them takes place now, it’s a sure thing that Mahrir and Si M’rabet will never show their faces in Denmark again.

The strategy chosen by Lund’s team—patience and an absolute ban on any information about the case becoming public—is risky, but it’s also the only way to get their hands on who they consider to be the leaders of the gang. They have to convince the robbers that the investigation is stymied again. Then they have to wait for the right moment.

One part of the strategy is bugging Dorthe Mørch. They need to know when and if Tayeb Si M’rabet calls her. He might reveal his whereabouts. The bugging has been going on for weeks; Mørch has spoken with her friends, the veterinarian, her new boyfriend, and the local pizzeria. There’s no trace of Si M’rabet—not until the night when Frederik Nielsen is forced to listen to her sing karaoke. Then it hits him: Of course! Mørch has another phone that the police don’t know about—a Tayeb phone.

Soon after the tap on the phone is in place, Si M’rabet’s voice comes through the police speakers. As expected, he calls Mørch from outside the country, from Algeria. The police can forget about having him arrested and extradited; law-enforcement collaboration there is an uncertain business. Instead, the police have to hope that he comes back to Denmark.

There are indeed indications that Si M’rabet plans on returning. The conversations between him and Mørch take on a strange form, almost as if they’re speaking in code, but the signs are there. At the end of November 2008, the police record a minute-and-a-half-long conversation. “Hi, Pumpkin,” Si M’rabet says.

“How are you doing?” Mørch asks.

“I’m OK. I’ve been in the hospital,” he says, distorting his voice like a playful child.

“What’s wrong with you?” Mørch asks.

“Nothing is wrong with me. Me have fixed something very goooooood,” Si M’rabet says, even more playfully.

“Oh, that’s good, sweetie.”

“No problem. OK? That’s the first thing.”

“Hmm.”

“And the other thing is fixed, too. I’m waiting on the third thing, then I’ll take the high-speed train to you,” Si M’rabet says.

“OK, that’s good,” Mørch says.

Si M’rabet doesn’t ask her how she’s doing. “I got my teeth,” she says.

“You got what?”

“I got my teeth,” she says. After several operations at the dentist in Århus, she is now rid of her temporary upper dentures.

“Oh, OK. Yeah, yeah… yeah,” he says, and continues. “And tomorrow I have to wait for this guy who has to talk to me. I have to talk to him, and then he has to do some things for me, and he has to help with some things, and then everything is good.”

“OK, that’s good.”

“No problems, baby love. I’ll check up on you a little later, baby, OK?”

“No problem. Take care, OK? And say hi to Longi,” Mørch says.

Thirteen

Damn. Of all the days in the year he could return to Denmark, Si M’rabet of course chooses Christmas Eve. For months the investigation has consumed Torben Lund’s time; now Christmas Eve is in jeopardy.

Si M’rabet’s phone left Algeria, and over the past few days it has connected with cellular towers in Spain, France, and Germany. Today, Si M’rabet will reach Denmark, if the police have calculated correctly, and therefore the investigators have come in for a briefing on this Christmas Eve day in Albertslund. Even the top department officials left their traditional holiday meals of marzipan pigs and roast duck behind.

In Odense, Frederik Nielsen is waiting for a signal. He and his two partners sit in a car and receive regular updates from headquarters. Phone surveillance shows that Si M’rabet arrived in Denmark on a ferry from Germany. He just called Mørch from a Danish train station. Mørch’s mother died a few months ago, and though Si M’rabet is a Muslim and doesn’t celebrate Christmas, he thinks that she shouldn’t have to sit alone on Christmas Eve, he told her on the phone tapped by the police.

Si M’rabet steps off the intercity train in Odense. He takes the elevator down to street level. When the elevator doors open, he is met by plainclothes policemen who grab him and drag him out of the elevator. In the midst of the Christmas atmosphere on the street in front of the station, they throw him down onto the cold sidewalk, roll him over onto his stomach, and handcuff him. “Welcome home,” the policemen say.

Nielsen’s assignment is to arrest Mørch as soon as possible after Si M’rabet has been grabbed. He and two other officers wait in a car on the northwest edge of Odense. They know that Mørch has an enormous dog, but they don’t know how aggressive it is. The youngest of the three officers gets stuck with the task of finding out. When the three arrive, he politely knocks on the door. Mørch opens it, and the officer lunges inside with his arm out. Mørch yells and holds her face in her hands; a zipper on his sleeve grazed her eye. Mozart the Doberman wags his tail and rubs up against the guests.

Nielsen eats Christmas Eve roast pork in the police station cafeteria. His only company, an Arabic interpreter, sticks with potatoes.

Si M’rabet and Mørch sit in two separate interrogation rooms. They haven’t seen each other yet and won’t for the entire following year. Si M’rabet says very little. He had nothing to do with the Danish Value Handling heist, he insists. He was in Morocco when the robbery was committed, he says, and he can prove it from the papers in his bags: receipts, cell-phone photos, and X-rays of an injured foot from a Moroccan hospital.

Mørch cried in the car all the way from Odense to Albertslund. The police searched her house top to bottom and found envelopes containing several thousand kroner, some phones, and a computer. Not much else of interest. They have spared her the humiliation of riding in the car in handcuffs, but the thought of having abandoned Mozart back home is unbearable. Is he going to have to be put to sleep? she wonders.

Mørch has consented to being interrogated without a lawyer. She realizes later that this was a mistake, but nobody answered the phone at her lawyer’s office, tonight being Christmas Eve. Nielsen is hard on her. He has a feeling that she has something on her mind, so he pushes her. “Now you’re lying!” he says. Mørch bawls, yells at him, then slumps back, exhausted.

The truth is that the police have never regarded her as an accomplice in the robbery. Nielsen thinks that the girl in front of him is good-hearted and somewhat naive, and she has gotten herself involved with people she should have stayed away from. He thinks Si M’rabet has brainwashed her, and he tells her so. All Mørch says is that she wants to go home to Mozart, no matter what; she is thinking that she’s practically willing to confess to anything they accuse her of, so long as she can be with him.

Close to midnight, Nielsen decides that they’ve gone as far as they can. Mørch will have to go back to jail and appear before a judge the next morning. He writes up his report, sets it in front of Mørch to sign.

Instead, she flings the papers in his face, and for the first time that evening she startles him with an angry question: “When are you going to ask about the four million?”

Fourteen

Torben Lund has finished eating dinner at home when Nielsen calls from the station. “Do you have a spade?” Nielsen asks.

“What?”

“We’ve looked all over the station. We need a spade,” Nielsen says.

“Can’t this wait until tomorrow?” Lund asks.

“No, it can’t. Apparently, we’re better at interrogating than searching.”

Soon they’re sitting in Lund’s car, headed for Odense, Lund and another officer up front and Mørch and Nielsen in back. Christmas Eve has turned to Christmas Day; they’ve been at this for 15 hours now.

Nielsen made an unusual deal with Mørch. “Would you like to know who did the Danish Value Handling job and where the money is?” she asked in the interrogation room. Nielsen would like to know, yes. Mørch demanded that she be released and returned home to Mozart.

Nielsen scratched his head at that. A release was out of the question. But if she told them where the money was, he promised he would personally drive her to her home in Odense twice a week until her trial was over. That way she could take Mozart out for walks.

“It’s under the terrace,” she said. It had been only a few hours since Nielsen was standing out on that miserable terrace behind her house, smoking a cigarette on break. And now Mørch was saying he’d crushed out his cigarette on top of several million kroner?

He is no longer in doubt when they’re in the car. There is something about Mørch that he trusts. She’s not the world’s greatest liar; her shoulders sink when she tells the truth. She seems relieved now, despite everything.

In Odense, on the weed-infested terrace in Mørch’s backyard, is a picnic table. Mørch points under it. Judging from the mixture of sand and soil, it’s obvious when Nielsen and the other officer pry the slabs up that someone has been digging around under there. Mørch notes that the other officer, a woman, does most of the digging. Typical, she thinks.

A few inches below, the spade hits a package, then a plastic box. The contents are packed tightly and wrapped snugly in several layers of plastic sacks, a paper bag from a discount store, and brown tape. The officers cut the packages open. Inside, bundles of 500- and 1,000-kroner bills are neatly stacked. In a freezer bag, rolled up in a checkered tea towel, they find a loaded seven-millimeter Beretta pistol. Mørch gasps. She didn’t known the gun had been there all this time.

“Should we dig farther down?” Nielsen asks, looking at Mørch. She shakes her head.

They drive back to Albertslund with the money, just under four million kroner, in the dirt-smeared sacks. This, Lund is thinking, is the biggest Christmas present he’s ever gotten.


Precisely 3,449,000 kroner is what it comes to when the investigators count the money in the bags the next morning. Putting together what Mørch and Marco Kristiansen have said, this is half of Tayeb Si M’rabet’s share of the Danish Value Handling job. He should have gotten eight million kroner. The police guess that Si M’rabet’s stoner friend Ripa drove the rest to Paris and dropped it off there.

Three and a half million kroner is nothing to sneeze at. But it’s still only 5 percent of what the robbers made off with. Where’s the rest?

The investigators believe that Si M’rabet must have been one of the main organizers of the robbery. The analysis of the cell-phone traffic indicates that one of the 18 DVH phones was his. Several times the phone was tracked traveling from Odense to Brøndby, and it was on Kornmarksvej not only during the robbery but also during several trial runs. Judging from the thickly accented “lemme work” voice heard on Kristiansen’s video recording, Si M’rabet is also the man who spied on Danish Value Handling early that spring. On Mørch’s computer, which Si M’rabet has used, police also find screen shots from Danish Value Handling’s website and Google Earth searches for the company’s handling-center address. 

Fifteen

By the beginning of 2009, the investigation is in its fifth month, and Tayeb Si M’rabet, Christoffer Wallin, and Marco Kristiansen are in jail. So are the three Swedes who came to pick up the cars; Lahoucine Mahrir, the pickpocket whose fingerprints were found at the farmhouse; and Dorthe Mørch. Analyses of Kristiansen’s phone show that he was home in Fredericia during the Danish Value Handling robbery. Assuming there were six robbers and at least 14 or 15 men assisting on August 10, the police still haven’t got their hands on at least 10 to 15 people.

But the list of suspects is growing. Phone conversations and meetings between people who ordinarily shouldn’t know each other pop up in the phone data. Many of the discoveries can be traced back to Wallin’s arrest. In Wallin’s Stockholm apartment, Swedish police find a plastic key card from the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. The hotel staff says that it wasn’t given to Wallin, however. The room was rented from August 13 to 15 by a Swedish man, Mikael Senbit.

The guest book shows that this Senbit and his friends were charged a substantial amount for cigarette burns on a coffee table, and someone in the room called an escort service. When the police look up the women who got the job on the night of August 13, they say that their customers had a cardboard box full of cash in the hotel room. “Take whatever you want,” they’d been told when the cocaine dust began to settle at the party’s end. The streetwise escort girls took only an amount that covered their hourly fees, but the men came running after them and stuffed more bills into their bras.

Police compare a photo of 26-year-old Senbit with the image of the man who stepped out of the white van in the Nokia parking lot shortly after the robbery; the Nokia security guard took an excellent photo of him, zoomed in very close. It looks like Senbit. And when the investigators show Senbit’s photo to employees at the Hotel Metropol, they confirm that he’s the tall, nearly bald man in the low-hanging camouflage pants who on August 8 checked in to the hotel under the name Jonson, together with the Wallin family. Senbit’s family also received a call from a pay phone in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district on August 10, the evening after the robbery.

A detailed combing of telecommunications-company records shows that a call to a woman in Stockholm was made from the same pay phone. The woman is the girlfriend of a 35-year-old Danish man, Morten Rasmussen. This name brings smiles to the faces of the investigators at the Western District police station. The police went through the data from the phones used in connection with the unsuccessful car pickup at the gravel pit. One of the phones’ call history contains a landline number in the town of Randers, Denmark. It turns out that the Randers subscriber has a son in Sweden with sticky fingers. The previous year he was found guilty of blowing up a bank vault. His name is Morten Rasmussen, too.

Going through the phone records, the police also note that one of the phones used in the days after the robbery had called Samira, the champagne girl from the Maxim Bar, several times on the evening of Sunday, August 10. When Torben Lund talks to Samira in her Copenhagen apartment, she tells him that the man she met that evening, besides being high on cocaine, had a loose front tooth and a tattoo of his daughter’s name on his left arm. The description fits Morten Rasmussen exactly.


On January 7, Swedish police in Stockholm arrest Mikael Senbit. In Malmö, Swedish officers take Daniel Stokic and Igor Jakovjev into custody. At the same time, a naked Morten Rasmussen wakes up on his sofa in his suburban Stockholm apartment to an unusual sound.

Rasmussen had come home late last night from his job at a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. He is supposed to go back to work soon. At times he works insane hours, works hard, to earn money that he spends prudently. For recreation—his trips to casinos and his cocaine habit—he finds money elsewhere and spends it with an easy-come-easy-go mentality. When he was young, when he hung out with the rough crowd in Stockholm, the money came from stealing, blowing up bank vaults, or doing favors for others planning bigger robberies. Money came in if the plans were successful. That’s how it works; you contribute by playing a small part in a large operation, and you get paid accordingly. Everything goes smoothly in these circles if everyone has a full stomach, so to speak.

Rasmussen gets up from the sofa. Somebody’s trying to break in, he is thinking. Several weeks ago, his neighbor, a priest, told him that some men had been peeking into Rasmussen’s windows when he wasn’t home. The priest thought they were police. Rasmussen didn’t understand it. Nowadays, his criminal activities are few and far between. He is older now, he has a six-year-old daughter, and he prefers less risky ways of getting ahold of recreational money.    

Rasmussen, still stark naked, grabs an air rifle from his closet and peeks out his kitchen window; 20 to 30 officers are out there in riot gear, with raised weapons. They’ll shoot him if he’s holding the air rifle, he thinks. He puts it back in the closet and returns to his living room. He considers making a run for it, but only for a second. It’s January, freezing cold, and full daylight, and he doesn’t have a stitch of clothing on. Instead, he lies down on the floor on his stomach, his arms and legs spread. He hears a window being broken. A teargas grenade lands in his neighbor’s apartment by mistake. When the Swedish police break into his apartment, yelling and swearing, all he can see from floor level are black boots, smoke, and his toy spaniel, Vaflen—Waffle—hiding underneath the sofa, shaking with fright.

nissenmorte-1398725834-1.jpg
Morten Rasmussen (Photo: Mads Nissen)

Sixteen

In 14 days, police have made six arrests. There are now eight suspects in custody. For weeks, both the Danish and Swedish authorities haul them into hearings, hoping that they will shed light on the biggest robbery ever committed in Denmark.

But the hopes are mostly in vain. Except for Marco Kristiansen, the suspects refuse to say more than is absolutely necessary. They name no names and deny knowing each other. They claim a variety of alibis, which is a logical enough strategy: The police may have videos of the robbery, but the figures on camera are wearing balaclavas. As long as the suspects keep denying everything, the burden of proof rests with the police.

Still, by the summer of 2009, a rough sketch begins to materialize of the suspects’ activities in the weeks leading up to the robbery. According to the video from Milton’s roof, Tayeb Si M’rabet and Kristiansen had already begun their reconnaissance in the early spring of 2008. On July 26, several cars linked to the suspects drove over the Oresound Bridge to Copenhagen, according to photos at the toll gate. Cellular-tower records show that Si M’rabet’s phone was near the Sengeløse farmhouse around noon that day, and later that same afternoon several men crawled through the window of the Milton warehouse and moved the shelving away from the wall separating the warehouse from Danish Value Handling. The next night, the robbers’ phones connected with a tower close to the warehouse.

On August 3, the license plates that later were on the stolen Audis in the gravel pit were taken off vehicles in Copenhagen. A total of seven robbers’ phones were moving around the Danish Value Handling area the night of August 4 and early-morning hours of August 5, 2008—perhaps a dress rehearsal or a final test of the time it would take the police to respond to an alarm.


In jail, Daniel Stokic—the 23-year-old man from Malmö whose DNA was found on the hoodie and Yankees cap discarded in the garden plot not far from Danish Value Handling—isn’t saying much. But when police search his computer, they discover a number of interesting online chat logs. On August 11, the day after the robbery in Denmark, he chatted with a friend, 24-year-old Naief Adawi, about an article headlined “Big Robbery in Copenhagen’s Western District Last Night.”

“What, does it say the biggest robbery?” Stokic asked.

“No, hell no, brother,” Adawi replied.

The two chatted several times over the next month, exchanges that seemed to be about dividing money among 15 people. Adawi seemed dissatisfied with his share. During one chat, he said he was going to talk to someone named Khalid about his frustration.

“What are you going to say [to him]?” Stokic asked during a chat on September 7, 2008.

“3,2 mill. – hahaha,” Adawi wrote.

“Yeah, he’ll shoot you,” Stokic wrote back.

When the police check Adawi’s phone, it so happens that he received nine calls on the evening of August 11 from a phone linked to the Danish Value Handling break-in. During the preparations and the robbery itself, his phone was turned off; otherwise it never was. A coincidence? Or a pattern? In addition there is this Khalid, spoken of in the chats as “sick” and “brainwashed.”

In Adawi’s and Stokic’s circle, there are three brothers by the name of Zahran, known all too well by the Swedish police. Around July 31, 2008, several of the phones linked to the Danish Value Handling break-in, including Si M’rabet’s, were in Malmö, near the Hotel Ibis, where Khalid Zahran, the middle brother, had rented two rooms. Calls from Zahran’s phone to younger friends in Malmö corresponded precisely with the times involved in the Danish Value Handling robbery. Swedish police move to arrest the Malmö suspects.


It’s now November 2009. Fifteen months have passed since the Danish Value Handling robbery. The case has to go to trial, and soon; according to Danish law, suspects can be held without trial for only one year, unless a judge believes there are “very special circumstances.” Even though Denmark’s biggest robbery surely qualifies as special circumstances, the police prosecutors don’t want to try the court’s patience. The first man arrested, Christoffer Wallin, has now been in custody for 15 months under the terms of a special exemption. Tayeb Si M’rabet has been in jail for 11 months, many of them in isolation. It’s torture; he is going crazy, he complains.

The three young men who went to pick up the cars at the gravel pit were given short sentences for handling stolen goods. Frederik Nielsen, meanwhile, has kept his promise to Dorthe Mørch: He has driven her back and forth from Copenhagen to Odense twice a week so she can spend time with her dog, Mozart. She and the policeman have gradually become friends. When she is sentenced to three years in prison for dealing with stolen goods—a harsh sentence, though it is later reduced to two years—Nielsen has to hold himself back from leaping up and yelling at his own prosecutor, “We’ll appeal!”

The 14 suspects still awaiting trial will be charged with aggravated robbery “under extremely exacerbating circumstances,” arson, possession of weapons, and endangering the lives of others. “This is a crime of such character,” says Kim Christiansen, the district attorney prosecuting the case, “that all those involved must have had knowledge of the master plan, regardless of whether they were one of the robbers or just a driver. The mere risk that someone could happen to talk too much or not execute his job precisely on time was serious enough that they all must have known about the target.”

In his fifties now, Christiansen has spent almost 20 years with the police. In the late autumn of 2009, he is assigned the job of assessing whether the 15 months of work Torben Lund and his team have done will hold up in court. “Because of the fact that we are attempting to prosecute all the defendants as a single entity,” Christiansen later says, “we run the risk that any weak evidence against any one defendant can cause the entire structure to collapse from the bottom.”

The indictment is finally ready in December 2009. But one important thing is missing: a man who has the investigators in a state of limbo and may hold the key to understanding where the rest of the money went. Where in the world, they want to know, is Lucky Lukas Hasselgren?

lukas-1398726771-4.jpg
Lukas Hasselgren (Photo: Mads Nissen)

Seventeen

Early in the robbery investigation, high-ranking police officials from the Western District began making regular visits to Stockholm, where they hoped to draw on the Swedes’ much greater experience with violent organized robberies. In 2005, the Swedish National Police, fed up with the country’s wave of such crimes, set up a task force to analyze them. Gradually, they compiled a list of over 600 people who were suspected of or had actually taken part in major robberies in Sweden. Two hundred of them were considered to be the nucleus of this crime epidemic.

On one of the Danish investigators’ first trips, the Swedish police pulled out their Top 200 list. One of the names belonged to a stocky 36-year-old Stockholm apprentice painter named Lukas Hasselgren. His nickname was said to be Tjockis, Swedish for “Fatty.” Others called him Lucky Luke, after the Belgian comic-book cowboy.

On August 16, 2008, when Christoffer Wallin, the three young Swedish men, and Marco Kristiansen left the gravel pit near Sengeløse on their way to the Hotel Scandic, Wallin made a phone call—after which the mood in the car brightened considerably. Kristiansen later told police that the man Wallin spoke to reassured the three young Swedes that they would be paid even though the cars had vanished.

After Wallin and his three friends were arrested, when the police went through Hotel Scandic’s surveillance recordings, they found something interesting. At 11:30 a.m. that same day, Kristiansen entered the hotel to rent a room—not for himself, but for an odd couple, a stout man in his mid-thirties and his 20-year-old Filipino girlfriend, who would arrive an hour later. Shortly before that, Kristiansen and the stout man had been captured on a surveillance camera at a store elsewhere in the city, leaving the store with two Samsonite suitcases—the receipt for which would later be found at the farmhouse near Sengeløse.

At 5:32 p.m., 15 minutes after Wallin called a cell phone in the Copenhagen area, the heavyset man and his girlfriend showed up again on a surveillance camera near the hotel lobby elevator, on their way up to their room, only to leave again five minutes later. It was Lukas Hasselgren and his girlfriend, Maya—alerted to trouble, the police believed, by Wallin’s phone call.

The police don’t realize all of this until it’s too late. Later, Hasselgren tried making several unsuccessful calls from a rarely used new phone—including one call to the phone Wallin was holding when he was arrested. Hasselgren and Maya checked in the next day at a hotel in Hamburg, Germany, and on August 18, 2008, they flew to Thailand. Did he bring along the millions from Danish Value Handling?


A liaison officer in Thailand is put on the case. The investigators in Albertslund have the distinct impression that Thai authorities have located the hefty Scandinavian, but first the Thais want a certain document, then another. Time passes.

Meanwhile, the investigators try to firm up the evidence connecting Hasselgren with the robbery. Hasselgren is an experienced man, according to Swedish criminal records. His latest convictions, several years earlier, were for planning a robbery of a valuables transport and for illegal possession of firearms. In both cases, the Swedish police were able to foil his plans before they could be carried out, but the cases have familiar elements: stolen Audis hidden in containers, burning cars, caltrops.

The investigators know that Hasselgren knows Wallin; they’ve done time together. That they know each other proves nothing in itself. But on the farm near Sengeløse the police found a bag with ten PUK code cards—used for unlocking mobile phones—for Swedish phones. One of the numbers ends in 3055 and turns out to have connected to a tower very close to Hasselgren’s residence in Stockholm: 3055 had contacted Christoffer Wallin many times.

On August 8, Wallin’s phone and 3055 followed each other to Malmö, and at 3:11 p.m. the surveillance camera at the Oresound Bridge photographed the Wallin family’s Volvo and Mikael Senbit’s rental car, with another man apparently sitting in the front passenger seat, driving through the toll gate on the way to Denmark. Senbit later explained that Wallin had asked him to bring along to Denmark someone who couldn’t drive. Hasselgren doesn’t have a driver’s license.

That afternoon the mismatched group of people checked into the grubby Hotel Metropol: the Wallins with their two small children, Senbit, and an overweight white male blue-collar-worker type. When the investigators show a stack of mug shots to hotel employees, two of them identify Lukas Hasselgren as the overweight man. And judging by his body shape, he could be the man in coveralls stretched to the point of bursting in the surveillance-video footage from the scene of the Danish Value Handling heist.

Pressure on the Thai authorities from the Western District grows—but soon the Thais report that Lukas Hasselgren has left the country, traveling to the Philippines. In December 2009, as the indictment against the other 14 suspects is nearly finished, immigration authorities arrest Hasselgren in Manila. “The government will not permit our country to become a refuge for wanted foreign criminals,” the country’s immigration minister, Marcelino Libanon, tells the local media.

Awaiting extradition, Hasselgren is locked up in the Bicutan Detention Center, an overcrowded, gang-infested prison in Manila. By now, Maya has left him; he beat her several times, she says during a police interrogation, even in front of her parents. Months pass with paperwork and dragging feet. Back in Denmark, the trials in the Danish Value Handling case must start without Lucky Luke. 

Eighteen

The proceedings begin on March 8, 2010, at Glostrup Court, where cases from Copenhagen’s Western District are heard. Outside the modern judicial building in this Copenhagen suburb, dozens of officers armed with submachine guns stand guard as the accused arrive, each in his own car with sirens screaming. Theoretically, anything is possible; the police calculate that five or six accomplices are still at large.

Escorted by uniformed officers, the defendants are the last ones to enter the courtroom, one by one, each uncuffed as they sit down with their respective lawyers. Some of them are wearing shirts that fit tightly over their muscular bodies. Others hide their heads beneath hoodies and caps.

The charges are serious. Christiansen, the district attorney, wants all of them convicted for robbery “jointly and in prior agreement” and requests a sentence of up to 15 years for every one of them. With the exception of Marco Kristiansen, every defendant pleads not guilty.

There is an enormous amount of material to be presented: testimonies, DNA evidence, fingerprints, surveillance video. But the challenge for Kim Christiansen and his two fellow prosecutors is to present what they call the chain evidence. By reeling off the cell-phone numbers, the placement of the cell towers, and the photos from the Oresound Bridge, the prosecution must establish that the 14 defendants participated in both the planning and execution of the robbery.

Most of the defendants refuse to testify, but Tayeb Si M’rabet has prepared a defense. He was on a trip during the robbery, he says, speaking through a French interpreter. His hotel and medical receipts, cell-phone photos, a ferry ticket, and an X-ray from a Moroccan hospital prove this, he says. No, says the prosecution; all the pieces of Si M’rabet’s evidence are forgeries. In fact, they argue, police found a pad of blank hotel receipts in his baggage when he was arrested.

Then one of the prosecutors makes an unusual demand: “Say in Danish: ‘Lemme work.’”

Si M’rabet leans forward toward the microphone and says the words. The video recorded two years earlier from the roof of Danish Value Handling is then played.

“Are you the one who is speaking on that recording?” the prosecutor asks.

“I’m not Spiderman,” he says. “It’s not me speaking. It sounds like a Turk.”

Dorthe Mørch watches the proceedings, shaking uncontrollably. She has been called in as a witness against Si M’rabet. During a recess, Morten Rasmussen holds his hand in the form of a pistol and points it at her. A jury member and a policeman see him do it, and the entire trial is halted even though Rasmussen denies the whole thing.

Mørch is used to this type of thing by now. She is followed around in prison by the defendants’ loyal aides, who threaten to beat her up. She hardly dares leave her cell to go to the bathroom. Now she studies her ex-boyfriend, whom she hasn’t seen for a few years. “It is Tayeb’s voice on the recording,” she says later. “There’s no way he can talk his way out of it.”

More than two years after the robbery, after a trial lasting 56 days, the verdict is handed down on September 15, 2010. The defendants speak in low voices to their attorneys and rock their knees nervously back and forth as they wait for the judges, who are the last to enter the courtroom.

The presiding judge walks in with an 84-page decision under his arm, amounting to one word: guilty. A century of imprisonment is to be divided among the defendants. Si M’rabet gets ten years; the sentence is particularly long because of his central role. Lahoucine Mahrir, Morten Rasmussen, Christoffer Wallin, Khalid Zahran, and Naief Adawi are sentenced to eight years each. The others get seven years. Mikael Senbit gets a small reduction, because according to the phone evidence, he wasn’t involved in the robbery until a few days before it took place. Marco Kristiansen is sentenced to compulsory psychiatric treatment. The foreign nationals, after serving part of their sentences, will be permanently exiled from Denmark.


Twelve days after the verdict, a message arrives at Copenhagen’s Western District headquarters from the Dutch police. A man is en route to Sweden via Amsterdam. Ten months in a Filipino jail have taken their toll; he is trim now, no longer fat Tjockis. But Lukas Hasselgren is coming home.

Four months later, in February 2011, the prosecutors, a defense attorney, and all the witnesses from the Danish Value Handling trial reconvene, this time with Hasselgren as the only defendant. Taking his place in the witness box, Hasselgren states that he doesn’t know any of the guilty parties in the case except for Christoffer Wallin, a guy he did time with. He explains that he hadn’t been in Denmark prior to or during the robbery. Far from it—he was in a summer house with his mother and former girlfriend, Maya, or he was home in Stockholm. He first arrived in Denmark after the robbery, to party and snort cocaine with his friends.

But Maya, testifying from Manila on Skype, says that Hasselgren was gone probably four or five days in August. Several days after that, Christoffer Wallin’s girlfriend came and picked her up. They were supposed to go to Denmark immediately.

Eight days later, the verdict is handed down. The judges and the jury agree that Hasselgren statements are largely untrustworthy and should be disregarded. Although there is no fingerprint or DNA evidence connecting him to the robberies, the thousands of pieces of telephone data the police and prosecutors mustered to place Hasselgren at the scene of the crime prove adequately convincing. The court cannot establish what his role was, exactly, but it is believed that at minimum he drove one of the trucks. Taking into account his earlier convictions and robberies, he receives the same sentence as Tayeb Si M’rabet: ten years.

By April 20, 2012, it’s all over—the robbers who appealed their cases are denied permission to take them to the Supreme Court. The Danish judicial system provides no more options.

Nineteen

The letter from Tayeb Si M’rabet arrives in early June 2012: a sheet of graph paper with red-ink handwriting influenced by Arabic’s serifs and flowing lines. The letter is sent from Østjylland State Prison, one of Denmark’s most secure facilities, where Si M’rabet will do time until he is thrown out of the country. He has been asked if he will meet and give his version of the story of the great heist.

“Hello to you, Merci pour ta lettre,” the letter begins, in Si M’rabet’s characteristic mix of two or three languages.

I am sorry that it has taken so long to answer you. But if you ask me why … I have been somewhat busy, even though people believe that all we do in prison is eat and sleep …

I had to ask some people about your letter … and so on … If I just do it, people will think all kinds of things, if you know what I mean …

Well, I can talk to you, but not now … it will have to be in some months, or when I get out of isolation. So don’t think I won’t talk to you … I have to look at this from my side as well … I am 100 percent sure this is not the right time for me …

My final words between you and me are:

THE POLICE DON’T KNOW SHIT … Believe me.

Yours truly,

T.

To this day, Si M’rabet claims he is innocent.


Morten Rasmussen is doing his time in Vridsløselille National Prison and is feeling bad. Not just because of the eight years he’s in for the Danish Value Handling robbery. He was just given an extra three months for the hand-pistol threat against Dorthe Mørch in court, a gesture he says was totally misunderstood. “I’ve been in on beating people up who have done something to women,” Rasmussen says in an interview in late 2012. “Now I’ve been sentenced for doing just that. I feel really shitty about that.”           

He sits in the prison visitors room, his case documents ready, arranged in neat piles. He wears reading glasses; he will soon turn 40, and strands of gray are showing in his black hair. He has been inside three years now, and he can barely handle it. His daughter back in Sweden is ten years old. She will be a teenager before he gets out on probation.

Rasmussen still maintains that he had nothing to do with the Danish Value Handling robbery. He was a victim of his marred past, of knowing Christoffer Wallin, and of going to Copenhagen to party on that Sunday, August 10. “When you’ve committed a crime, you’re not up against a single policeman,” he says. “You’re up against a whole society that doesn’t believe you anymore.” He’s the type who uses his whole body when he talks. When he explains why he can’t have been a part of the robbery, he paces back and forth in the visitors room.

He claims that he was at work that Sunday morning. There was nothing to do, so he took off early without anyone seeing him leave, and he drove like hell (“I always drive that way,” he says) to Copenhagen. At 2:30 p.m., he called his girlfriend from a pay phone outside the Hard Rock Cafe on Vesterbrogade. They had quarreled, and he wanted to tell her that he had some big party plans and she wasn’t a part of them—rub salt in her wounds, as he puts it.

Later that evening, he partied at the Maxim Bar. Wallin was there and a few others. He can recall meeting Samira, but he was “so plastered” that now he can’t be sure if Samira was a man or woman. He borrowed a phone from one of the other partiers—a robber’s phone, as it turned out—and called Samira from it later. That is the only thing, Rasmussen claims, that connects him to the robbery.           

“The police don’t have a smoking gun,” he says. “It doesn’t exist, and in Sweden I would never have been found guilty on such flimsy evidence. But they try to get the small things that could have been the smoking gun to be the smoking gun. It’s like it turned into politics for the police. And that’s wrong, man.”

Rasmussen and Lukas Hasselgren try to get their cases heard at the Special Court of Indictment and Revision. If that fails, they will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

What about the many hundreds of thousands of kroner, maybe even millions, that the police claim he has? “If I was so fucking rich, I could have afforded to have this done,” Rasmussen says, pulling a flesh-colored dental plate out of his mouth. His false front tooth gleams on the plate.


“To hell with them. I hate cops from the bottom of my heart,” says Lukas Hasselgren the next day, in a nearly identical visitors room in the same prison.

Hasselgren’s skin is a montage of direct statements to the world. He pulls up his pant leg and reveals a tattoo stretching the length of his shin, “ACAB”: All cops are bastards. On his left arm is one that reads “Fuck The Police.” “I never spoke to them during interrogation,” he says. “Why should I? They’d already decided I was guilty.”

Hasselgren is no longer fat. He is six feet tall and in good shape, full of explosive energy, ripped and lean in the way that only bodybuilders can be. Free, out of prison, he “drinks like a fish,” he says. When he’s in prison, he gets in shape.

Hasselgren is, he says himself, “thoroughly criminal.” He lives a life where you “do what you want. You get into a brawl if you want to. Do drugs if you think it’s fun. Drive faster than you’re supposed to.” You risk going to jail by doing these things. But, he says, holding his palms out, the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages. By 2008, however, he says he was finished with the big robberies. After all, he was close to 40.

He says he was on his way to Thailand with Maya that August when he made a quick trip to Copenhagen to say hello and party with some friends. Maya’s tourist visa was going to expire in a week, and as Hasselgren has done regularly over the past 20 years, he was going to Asia for a few months to get drunk, do drugs, hang out on the beach, work out, and be with women who make fewer demands than Swedish women—in short, to live the free and cheap life. It’s not for nothing that he has “Pattaya, love of my life” tattooed on his stomach.

Hasselgren claims the police manipulated evidence and that he was convicted because of his past. “When they started sorting everything out, the police thought, Perfect, here’s the big-time robber Lukas, he’s done this thing before—the machine guns, Audis, the getaway to Asia. Then the cops’ theories start to show some cracks, but they’ve already gone to the media and talked about me being on the run. And so they’re trapped,” he says. “I’ve been involved in a lot, but I swear, I had nothing to do with this.”

He knows who the real perpetrators are, but he howls when asked to identify them. You don’t snitch. You don’t help the police. It’s better to do your time.

Close to his elbow, between other tattoos, a Thai prayer encircles his left upper arm—not because Lukas is spiritual, but because the words have meaning to Thai women who are believers: “Buddha protects me from everything.” Lukas says he has thought about adding a tattoo just below: “Except the Danish police.”

seizure1cop-1398819472-32.jpg
(Photo: Danish National Police)

Twenty

One question about the Danish Value Handling case still gnaws at Torben Lund and his investigators: Where is the money?

It’s a touchy subject. From 2000 until the robbery in 2008, over 210 million kroner was stolen from Danish cash transports and handling centers; less than eight million has been recovered. Of the over 70 million kroner stolen from Danish Value Handling, only the 3.5 million from under Dorthe Mørch’s terrace have shown up. So where’s the rest?

The police can only guess. Their theory is that Tayeb Si M’rabet’s friend Ripa took the other half of Si M’rabet’s share to Paris. Lukas Hasselgren managed to smuggle his share to Asia, the police guess, though Hasselgren scornfully shakes his head at the idea.

The day after the big heist, as the party began to break up at the Maxim Bar, Marco Kristiansen drove over the Oresound Bridge to Malmö, according to the phone analyses and his own statements. Did he have some of the money with him, to give to the Swedes who were in on the robbery? The police believe so, but they can’t prove it.

Maybe the millions have already been spent—blown on cocaine, vacations, cars, boats, booze, and parties or invested in new crimes. Maybe squandered by so-called friends while the robbers themselves are in prison. “Easy come, easy go,” Torben Lund says. “These people have a different lifestyle. Their lives aren’t as boring as everyone else’s. But they can be sure of one thing, that we’re going to be keeping an eye on them when they get out.”


Dorthe Mørch was released in December 2009, and she is now permitted to visit Tayeb Si M’rabet in prison. They have forgiven each other, and should he show up at her door one day she’ll invite him in for a cup of coffee, even though she’s certain that “the police will be there ten minutes later and bring along the cookies.”

When he gets out and is exiled from Denmark, Si M’rabet will move to Hamburg and do carpenter work. At least that’s what he says; Mørch doesn’t know what to believe. “He probably means it now,” she says, “but someday it’ll be a bank he’s carpentering on.”

One day during a supervised visit in prison, he leans forward and whispers in her ear. “Just wait, Pumpkin,” he says. “I’ll make you a millionaire again.”

Author’s Note

The Copenhagen Job is the result of interviews with investigators, attorneys, prosecutors, witnesses, and technicians who worked on the case of the Danish Value Handling robbery, as well as records of the trials, verdicts, police notes, and interrogation reports. In addition, articles from Swedish and Danish newspapers, the Public Prosecutor’s annual report from 2010, reports from the Prison Service, the Swedish National Police, and the Swedish Crime Prevention Council, as well as two books—The Punishment, by Dorthe Mørch, and Mafia War, by Tobias Barkman and Joakim Palmkvist—were consulted.

Several names have been changed to protect the individuals in question, including John, Bjarne, and Hans from the farm near Sengeløse; Maya, Lukas Hasselgren’s girlfriend; Ripa, Tayeb Si M’rabet’s friend; Samira and Katarina from the Maxim Bar; and Niklas from Danish Value Handling.