The robbers had a helicopter, explosives, and inside information on a $150 million cash repository...
On the bright afternoon of September 2, 2009, two men sat on a bench in Stockholm. One was medium height with a reddish-blond beard and sunglasses. He wore a gray suit with an open-collar shirt. The other, a squat man with dark hair and an olive complexion, had on a green military-style jacket. The bench was one of a half dozen along a marina on the north end of Skeppsholmen, a small island situated where the fresh waters coursing around the city begin to mingle with the Baltic Sea.
Connected by a single bridge to Stockholm’s mainland, Skeppsholmen offers a picturesque spot to conduct sensitive business. It’s home to Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art, which draws just enough tourists that a group of conspirators can remain unremarkable and undisturbed. Across the water to the southeast, the two men could just make out the upraised arms of passengers careening down a roller coaster.
A third man arrived, parked his car behind the museum, and walked toward the boats. He was at least six foot three—associates referred to him as the Tall One—and wore, as he often did, white slacks and a long-sleeve shirt. He was meticulously groomed and carried himself with the confidence of a well-connected businessman. At the waterfront, he paused and glanced at the scattered afternoon visitors. Then he strode over to the bench and sat down between the two men.
Annika Persson, an undercover officer with the Stockholm police, had followed the tall man down from his car and then strolled along the docks, 25 feet away. She was posing as a local resident out for an afternoon walk, and she’d brought along her small black Schnauzer as a prop. The three men seemed deep in conversation. If they noticed her, they didn’t show it.
Of the trio, the Tall One was the only man Persson could positively identify. His name was Goran Bojovic, and he was a 38-year-old first-generation Swede whose parents had emigrated from Montenegro. He owned a construction firm that was based in Estonia and lived in a quiet part of the city, above a combined café and furniture store owned by his parents. His criminal record consisted of a few traffic tickets. Still, the organized-crime detail at the National Criminal Investigations Department, known by its Swedish initials RKP, had long suspected him of being more than just a businessman.
Recently, those suspicions had turned more urgent, and the RKP had bugged his car and phone. On August 27, the Serbian foreign ministry, through diplomatic channels, alerted Swedish authorities that Bojovic had made contact with a man whose name would prick up the ears of any RKP officer: Milan Sevo, a former Stockholm Mafia figure who’d relocated to Belgrade, where the Serbian police monitored his calls. Serbian authorities had overheard Bojovic enlisting Sevo’s logistical help for what they gleaned was a major robbery to be carried out in Stockholm. The Serbs knew neither the time nor the location of the planned crime, but they did pass along two significant facts: The heist would take place at a large cash repository, and it would involve a helicopter. The Swedish police had placed Bojovic under surveillance in late August.
Persson tugged the dog in the direction of Bojovic and his companions. The men kept their voices low, and she couldn’t make out their conversation. But she did manage to sneak a closer look at their faces. She recognized the man with the “South European complexion,” as she would later describe him, as an acquaintance of Bojovic’s. The man with the beard, however, was unfamiliar.
After five minutes, the three men stood up and shook hands. Bojovic and the man in the military jacket left in Bojovic’s car. The bearded man passed within a few feet of Persson on his way to the parking lot. He climbed into a Peugeot and departed alone.
Persson walked to her own car and started to follow him. Just off the island bridge, worried that her pursuit might be too obvious, she radioed a surveillance vehicle waiting nearby. Her partner tailed the Peugeot across town to a commercial district on the eastern end of Stockholm, where the bearded man walked into an office building. That was as far as the police went with the lead. The Tall One had met with dozens of people during the weeks they’d been tailing him, and the gregarious businessman’s network seemed to include hundreds of people. As one investigator complained about Bojovic, “He has 500 contacts in his phone; if he walks down the street, he’s stopped every five meters to talk.” The police didn’t have the resources to chase after every person with whom Bojovic shared a bench.
The officer added the Peugeot’s license plate to the surveillance report. He noted that the owner lived in Ljusterö, a wealthy coastal area to the north of Stockholm.
Bojovic, meanwhile, drove to the airport and flew to Belgrade. From there he hopped to Montenegro and then Thailand, with the RKP in virtual pursuit. They continued to track his phones, amassing volumes of cryptic, seemingly coded conversations and SMS messages pointing everywhere and nowhere at once. The Tall One was clearly scheming about something; he’d enlisted Sevo to help him hire a Serbian “pilot” for “a project” and given him a $20,000 advance. But not all was well. The pilot seemed to be backing out, and Bojovic wanted the money back to hire someone else.
“But has he said definitely no?” he asked Sevo one afternoon.
“Not totally. But he hasn’t been in touch. Fuck it. He made his point.... We have these other two, one in Switzerland. Now they are looking for the other person, to see if they want the job, straight up.”
“You know what? I called a school here and asked what it costs, you know, to learn,” Bojovic suggested.
“Good title if nothing else,” Sevo said. “You can say, ‘I am a pilot.’”
“Not, ‘I am the cook,’” Sevo joked.
“Well, I’m the waiter!”
Back in Sweden, Bojovic was in constant communication with a man named Charbel Charro, a first-generation Swede with dual Syrian citizenship. Charro had served time for theft and other crimes and was now working as a PE teacher at a school in southern Stockholm. On the phone, Charro seemed wary of surveillance. “It’s dangerous for you to talk to the guy down south,” he told Bojovic.
Leif Görts, a 52-year-old prosecutor in Sweden’s International Public Prosecution Office, followed the surveillance with a measured eye. Under the country’s legal system, prosecutors collaborate closely with police as they conduct investigations, and Görts had been the one to request the wiretaps on Bojovic at the end of August. A small, wiry man with a shaved head, he’d spent years working on financial cases, and he had built a reputation as someone who could win complicated fraud and money-laundering convictions. The robbery would be his first organized-crime case with the RKP. “This seems legitimate,” the cops had said when they brought him the information about the helicopter plot from the Serbian authorities. And Görts trusted them, even if the helicopter idea sounded a bit far-fetched. When it came to robberies in Stockholm, almost nothing was too spectacular to believe.
In fact, ambitious heists had become a kind of specialty criminal industry over the past decade, turning the country into one of the robbery hotbeds of the world. With a population of a little over 9 million, Sweden accounted for a tenth of the robbery losses in all of Europe; the period between 1998 and 2004 had witnessed 224 large-scale assaults on the country’s cash-distribution systems. In Finland the total for the same period was four. Lately, Sweden’s armed-robbery racket, once run by local gangs with colorful names like Fucked for Life and Brödraskapet, “the Brotherhood,” had been taken over by internationally sourced networks of freelance experts. They included ad hoc collections of drivers, explosives makers, and muscle assembled to execute increasingly intricate and violent plans, often involving inside information and heavy weapons.
The organized-crime division of the RKP had made disrupting those networks a top priority, and now they had a chance to head off a large robbery before it happened. For Görts, however, the surveillance had evolved into a kind of catch-22. These guys aren’t stupid, he thought. They know we’re wiretapping the phones. They know we can bug them. They are planning delicate, complicated crimes. He could bring in the suspects, keep them for a few days, and accuse them of conspiracy. But he wouldn’t be able to make the charges stick. Görts and the police had no option but to wait for the plot to become real.
On September 9, Bojovic finally seemed to set the plan in motion. “This is done,” he told Sevo on the phone. “We don’t need to look anymore.” The RKP concluded that Bojovic had finally found his pilot. Piecing together opaque clues from the transcripts, they thought they knew the date of the robbery, Thursday, September 17, and the location, a cash depot at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.
In Sweden the transport and storage of hard currency is handled not by banks but by three private companies. Each controls the cash from end to end—operating fleets of armored cars, doling the money out to ATMs, rounding up currency from banks and retail firms, and counting and storing it in cash centers. The largest of the three was G4S, a UK-based firm with operations around the world. Panaxia Security, a homegrown company, operated the cash center at the airport.
The location offered what the authorities assumed would be easy escape routes. And Sweden’s criminals had shown an affinity for airport-related targets. In 2002, three men dressed as maintenance workers and armed with assault rifles walked onto an Arlanda runway in broad daylight and robbed a plane that had just arrived from London. They took $7 million in cash and left behind a fake bomb to delay their pursuers. Four years later, masked men rammed through a gate at Gothenburg’s airport and made off with a million dollars.
This time the RKP would be ready. They mobilized SWAT teams and placed police helicopter crews on high alert. The pilots were prepped to intercept what were expected to be savvy, heavily armed assailants equipped with their own helicopter. The police also quietly informed Panaxia’s security director, on the condition that he not share the information with colleagues at other companies.
Then September 17 arrived and…nothing. And nothing is going to happen, Görts began to conclude. Maybe the too-obvious surveillance had scared Bojovic into hesitating. Maybe by “this is done” he had actually meant that he’d called the robbery off. More likely, the plot was a red herring from the beginning.
The distance between Myttinge, a forested area dotted with farms and cabins along Sweden’s eastern coast, and downtown Stockholm, to the southwest, is approximately 25 miles. A helicopter can make the trip in 10 minutes, and in 2009 the two Stockholm police helicopters based there routinely did so. The police choppers were kept in Myttinge partly for their protection but also to provide rescue coverage to the sparsely populated archipelagos to the north. The base itself consists of a single metal-roofed hangar. It is easy to spot from the road: Its driveway is flanked by a large cylindrical fuel tank and a circular concrete landing pad painted with a white, 10-foot-wide H.
At 2:30 a.m. on September 23, just under a week after the false alarm at Panaxia’s airport depot in Stockholm, police pilot Anders Johansson and his partner, on duty in Myttinge, returned from their final routine flight of the evening. They refueled the helicopter, rolled it into the hangar next to its blue-and-white mate, and shut the automatic door. After locking up the personnel exit on the side of the building, they set the alarm, and at 20 minutes after 3 a.m. repaired to their bunks in a building a few hundred yards up the road. Neither noticed anything unusual.
Two hours later, however, a bulky man came running up the driveway toward the hangar. He was wearing dark pants, tennis shoes, and a light-colored jacket. His face was covered with a black balaclava, and bundled under each arm was a plastic box with a red blinking light on top. When the man reached the hangar’s personnel entrance, he stuttered to an ungraceful stop and deposited one of the boxes on the ground. Then he sprinted across the tarmac to the other end of the hangar, stopped, and set down the second box. Even free of the boxes his running appeared labored. He returned to the personnel door, pulled out a hatchet, and smashed the numbered entry pad several times before lumbering back the way he came.
At the end of the hangar’s driveway, the runner turned east and continued up the darkened road. Once around a curve, he stepped a few feet off the asphalt into a patch of tall grass behind a bush and picked up a gasoline canister. He pulled off his balaclava and cotton gloves, dumped them on the ground along with the ax and a small flashlight, and poured gas over the pile. Then he dug a small red plastic lighter from his pocket and set the whole thing ablaze. Satisfied, he tossed the lighter and plastic canister toward the fire, stepped back on to the road, and continued on his way.
Around the same time, two police officers patrolling in their car near Västberga, a neighborhood in the southwest of Stockholm, noticed a pair of black-clad men walking next to the E4 freeway. There was no parked car in sight. Suspecting that something was amiss, the police pulled behind them and ordered them to stop.
One of the officers frisked the two men, who had no IDs and were wearing heavily layered clothing, and found two chains and several small padlocks. One of the men confessed that he and his companion had been out chasing a gang who had attacked a friend’s younger brother. They’d parked their car on the other side of the freeway to avoid detection and brought the chains and locks as weapons. When they found their supposed adversaries, he said, they’d realized they were vastly outnumbered. They’d run away and ended up near the E4.
It was an odd and implausible story, and the cops called in the canine squad to search the area. They suspected that the pair might be burglars. But when nothing more nefarious turned up, the officers dropped the men at their car and phoned in a report.
One hundred miles north of Stockholm, a heavy knife sliced through the canvas wall of a small commercial helicopter hangar in Norrtälje. Two men peeled back a four-foot flap, stepped in, and flipped on the lights. In front of them sat a red-and-white Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter atop a small wheeled cart. Developed by the U.S. Army and produced by a Canadian manufacturer, the Bell 206 was a multipurpose bird suitable for everything from traffic reports to medevac. Simple to fly, it was often used for pilot training.
One of the men pressed a button to open the hangar door. They rolled the cart out onto the concrete landing pad outside and climbed into the helicopter. The pilot checked the gauges and then held down the starter button on the throttle. Military radar picked up the craft taking off from Norrtälje at 4:43 a.m. It had rained the previous day, but now the clouds had lifted. The lights of Stockholm were visible in the distance.
It was an hour before dawn on Wednesday morning at the G4S cash depot, a dull, blocky six-story building just off the E4 in Västberga. The September air was crisp and still. A few armored trucks idled at the loading dock, awaiting the cash they would carry out on their morning deliveries. The day would be among the busiest of the month for the depot. The unofficial national payday was coming up on Friday, and the Västberga depot was at its peak level of cash storage: around 1 billion Swedish kronor, roughly $150 million.
Västberga was just one of five large G4S-operated cash centers in Sweden, themselves a tiny speck in the company’s galaxy of international operations, which range from bodyguards to immigration detention centers to alarm systems. After Walmart, G4S is the largest employer in the world, with nearly 600,000 workers in 110 countries. In Sweden, responsibility for safeguarding the company’s cash centers fell to 29-year-old Johan Petersson, director of security for the cash-handling division. Petersson, athletic and blond, had spent eight years in the Swedish army, serving in the Balkans as a military police officer and rising to the rank of captain. Three years ago, he’d moved to the private sector, succeeding in tailored shirts and cuff links as much as he had in fatigues. Defending against the robbers was, in a way, a kind of military operation—only with more action. The company suffered at least one robbery attempt every month. But the Västberga depot, where Petersson was based, had never been targeted.
From a distance, the depot was easily distinguished from the surrounding warehouses, with a 20-foot pyramid skylight jutting up from the lower section of its roof and a round, rotating G4S sign on the higher end. Five stories tall in front, with two belowground floors visible from behind, the building had once been an ambulance-dispatching service. When G4S had taken it over in 2006, they’d been forced, from Petersson’s point of view, into some undesirable design choices. The main vault where money was stored was located on the second floor, belowground from the front of the building. But the cash room where money was counted was on the sixth. The two were connected by a small elevator. In the cash room, staffers retrieved bins sent up from the vault and carried them to counting machines atop long tables. They fed cash from the bins into the machine, recorded the amounts, and packed it into trays to be sent out to ATMs.
At just after 5 a.m., a few of the 11 staffers working the overnight shift in the cash room had returned from a smoke break. Among them was Oskar Lindgren, the group leader for the night. Lindgren, a 35-year-old bachelor, had been a G4S employee since 2002 and lived close enough to the depot that he usually walked to work. Before G4S he’d had a job in a bingo hall. He had started his 12-hour shift at 7 p.m. the previous evening, prepping for his team’s arrival at 10, and been frustrated to find that two of them had called in sick while another had stayed home with an ill child. Otherwise the night seemed quiet. Things were running smoothly enough in the cash room that by early morning, when a woman called up from the vault asking to leave early, Lindgren let her go. He was outside the cash room near the atrium, a wide interior shaft descending to a fourth-floor patio and capped by the pyramid skylight above. Lindgren recorded the employee’s clock-out as 5:15 a.m., although later he would peg the time at no later than 5:10.
As he walked back to the cash room, which required passing through a security airlock between two heavy doors, Lindgren heard the sound of the atrium windows rattling. At first he didn’t react: Delivery trucks, he knew, began hitting the streets at that time of day. But when the noise persisted even into the windowless cash room, he asked his colleagues to shut off the counting machines so that it could be heard better. A few of the staff had a running joke about robbers descending on the cash depot from above. Maybe this was it, one of them deadpanned.
At 5:16 a.m. in the alarm center three floors down, one of the security staffers on duty called the G4S emergency line to report that the walls of the building were vibrating. Then the security cameras on the roof were switched on, just in time for a white helicopter flying in low and fast to be visible on the monitors. It looped around and came by a second time before climbing out of sight above the building.
Seconds later the pilot of the Bell 206 JetRanger skillfully guided the helicopter in at an angle, illuminating the black roof with the chopper’s front light. He set it down gently on the rubber surface, in a tight space between the glass pyramid and the building’s edge; a few feet to the right and his rotor would have slammed into a concrete wall. Three masked men climbed out and calmly assembled their gear. To the stunned guards watching the cameras from the alarm center, “it looked like they do this every day.”
Two of the men unstrapped a pair of ladders that had been attached with zip ties to the helicopter’s skids. The other pulled a sledgehammer out of a long canvas bag and began bashing a corner windowpane in the pyramid. After a half dozen over-the-shoulder shots, the glass gave way. The men lowered the first ladder 20 feet down to the fifth-floor atrium balcony. It had been measured to fit.
Inside the well-insulated cash room, the counters still couldn’t pin down the source of the noise, and Oskar Lindgren decided to go back out and investigate. He asked a staff member to hold the inner door of the security airlock while he returned to the atrium. Upon opening the door at the far side, Lindgren could see into the interior courtyard. Two ladders were now propped against the opposite side of the atrium, and he saw a man dressed entirely in black, save for a pair of white shoes, standing on the shorter one. Then he noticed another man waiting on the floor below. Both men wore what looked to Lindgren like black motorcycle helmets. What are they doing there? he wondered. No one had told him there would be unauthorized personnel in the building.
The sight of broken glass snapped Lindgren back to reality. He sprinted through the airlock and into the cash room. “It’s for real!” he shouted. “They’re here!” The staff looked back at him, dumbfounded. He ran to the wall and triggered the panic alarm.
Company protocol called for staff members in the cash room to secure the area and remain inside. Johan Petersson had designed the steel doors for both the airlock and a secondary entrance, and he had them custom-made by a small Swedish blacksmithing company. Each was intended to withstand an assault lasting 15 minutes, which was plenty of time for the police to arrive. Now, as a precaution, Lindgren ordered the staff to send what money they could down in the elevator and to padlock the rest in the room’s metal cages. Then he gathered the employees in a corner of the room, where they would wait for the police to arrive.
Out in the atrium, one black-clad man had climbed down to the fifth floor and then, using the second ladder, back up to the windows of a sixth-floor office adjacent to the cash room. The panes were made of bulletproof panzer glass, and he abandoned the sledgehammer after taking a few futile shots. Instead, he stuck against the glass what looked like an empty wooden picture frame, cut precisely to the window’s dimensions and covered in putty adhesive. The frame was lined with a mixture of ethylene glycol dinitrate and nitroglycerin that was commonly found in Polish-made dynamite. The man ran a wire out from the frame, triggered an electric detonator, and watched the window explode into the room. The three robbers then grabbed their gear and climbed up and into the office. They smashed through its simple bolt lock and found themselves standing in front of the cash room’s side entrance, barred only by Petersson’s steel door.
In the cash room, staff members began to panic. One woman sank to the floor crying while colleagues tried to comfort her. There was no protocol for this, Lindgren realized. Pacing back and forth with his mobile phone held to his ear, he told the guards in the alarm center that the employees were afraid for their lives. Should they stay put and risk getting blown up or executed? Or should they make a break for an exit and risk encountering the robbers? Before he could get an answer, another explosion rippled through the building, and the phone went dead. To the guard on the other end of the line, it felt like time had stopped.
Just before 5:20 a.m. that same morning, a black 2008 Audi station wagon owned by a 34-year-old TV producer named Alexander Eriksson was driving south on Tegeluddsvägen, a street in eastern Stockholm. Eriksson had worked on and off for TV4, one of the four major Swedish networks, and was well-known in the media industry. He ran his own production company and was considered a skilled cameraman. Eriksson also had a helicopter license and his own chopper, both of which came in handy for aerial shots on location. He’d worked on TV hits like Expedition Robinson, the Swedish version of Survivor, and just a few weeks ago he’d returned from Malaysia, where he’d worked on TV4’s Celebrity Jungle, a reality show in which B-list actors and washed-up athletes voted each other off the program.
Eriksson was known to be personable but peripatetic, with a taste for adventure that had occasionally gotten him in trouble. He’d struggled with cocaine and amphetamines before kicking both habits a few years earlier. Recently, however, he’d begun balancing production gigs with a second job, as the marketing manager for a wind-power company funded by his uncle, and the long work hours he typically kept had gotten longer. A colleague had noticed that Eriksson looked worn out when he returned from Malaysia, and that he was fueling himself on Red Bull. Eriksson’s ex-wife, with whom he had two children and had recently reconciled, worried that he’d put himself under so much pressure that he risked a relapse.
Now, speeding down a road damp from the previous day’s rain, Eriksson’s Audi approached the kind of unlit intersection prone to accidents at night. The driver slowed to a careful crawl. A rusty white 1980s Toyota eased out into the intersection from the right. The cars came together lightly, with the Toyota’s front bumper planting the slightest kiss on the Audi’s tail.
The two cars stopped. Two men got out. The Toyota’s front bumper had a scrape barely discernible amid the rust. The Audi’s damage, as an accident expert would later describe it, looked like something that might happen in a parking lot. The driver of the Toyota, a tiling contractor named Marcus Axelsson, calmly took several pictures of the damage with his cell phone. The photos were time-stamped 5:22 a.m., September 23. The two men climbed back into their vehicles and drove off.
Twenty-five miles to the northeast, in Myttinge, the two police helicopter pilots were awakened in their barracks by a call from headquarters. The G4S alarms had alerted the local authorities, who now relayed to pilot Anders Johansson the key details about the robbery in progress: helicopter, cash depot. They needed police choppers as quickly as possible. “Be prepared for armed assailants on the roof,” they warned Johansson. The helicopters would have time to foil the robbery or at least set off in pursuit of the perpetrators. The pilots rushed to the car and gunned it the 500 yards to the hangar.
After Johansson had leapt out, run past a barrier up the driveway, and rounded the corner of the building, he noticed what looked like a shoebox sitting outside the personnel door. A red light flashed on top. He stopped and turned. “There’s a bomb!” he said to his partner. Backing into the driveway, they saw the second box at the far end of the tarmac. For a moment they hesitated. Johansson considered whether they could get the helicopters out without triggering the bombs. Then he glanced at the tank sitting behind them, full of 6,000 gallons of combustible jet fuel. There could be more bombs attached to the hangar doors. He and his partner sprinted back to the car, turned around, and sped out to the main road. Just beyond the curve, they passed a small fire burning in the woods.
Ten minutes down the road, the pilots saw a fire truck driving in the opposite direction. A local resident had seen the fire in the distance and called it in. The pilots turned around and followed the firemen, who quickly extinguished the small, odd grass fire. They found a pair of half-burned gloves, a singed red lighter, and a black balaclava that had avoided the flames entirely. The pilots sat in the car a safe distance down the road from the hangar and waited for the bomb squad to show up.
The first explosion had mangled some of the metal around the handle, but the steel door to the cash room remained intact. Now the robbers pulled out a second charge, a 12-ounce Coke can filled with nitrate crystals. A magnet was affixed to the bottom, and the men stuck it to the door just above the handle, where the lock still held fast.
This time the staff members inside felt the shock wave roll over them. Steel shrapnel buried itself in the wall 15 feet down the room from where they sat. Nobody seemed hurt. But Lindgren decided they couldn’t wait on protocol any longer. “We’re leaving now,” he announced. Lindgren led the crew out through the vault’s main exit. A set of stairs took them down to a 10-by-10-foot airlock outside the second-floor vault. An employee inside, fearing that whoever was knocking at the door had already been taken hostage, refused to let them in.
At 5:38 a.m., 30 seconds after the last employee passed through the emergency exit, the side door to the sixth-floor cash room gave way to a third explosive charge. The first of the robbers, wearing a flak jacket and a paintball helmet over a black balaclava, strode menacingly into the room. He gripped a Kalashnikov in his gloved hands, his right finger on the trigger, and walked deliberately to the end of the room, scanning it from side to side. When he reached the counting machines and found them deserted, he turned back toward the cash cages. Another robber, a handgun holstered on his belt, followed him in.
Down in the security center on the third floor, the two guards had taken shelter under a desk, fearing that the upper floors of the building might collapse. They could no longer reach Lindgren on the phone and assumed the worst. The robbers, they figured, would be assaulting the alarm center soon enough. The guards had no weapons and no idea what to do. So they crouched and watched on the security monitors as the robbers dropped a pile of empty mail sacks on the floor, pulled out a circular saw covered in black lacquer, and got to work.
Johan Petersson’s ringer had jolted him out of bed at 5:18, just after the helicopter made its first pass by the G4S building. His nighttime security officer was on the phone from the company’s offsite emergency headquarters. When the officer announced that the Västberga depotwas under assault by men in a helicopter, only his tone of voice kept Petersson from assuming it was a joke. Oh shit, he thought. The young security director dressed quickly and grabbed his laptop on the way out the door. He lived only five minutes from the cash center, and he arrived on the scene at 5:35.
The first local Stockholm police, from a station near the depot, had arrived nine minutes into the robbery. But as they approached the building, they encountered chains lined with caltrops—metal crow’s feet designed to puncture car tires—stretched across the roads leading up to the building. They got out of their cars and established a command post 650 yards away, at a gas station. Caltrops themselves could be moved, but they were a sign that whatever was going on inside G4S had been planned by professionals. Officers in heavy tactical gear gathered to plan an approach to the depot on foot. The organization and firepower of the robbers, however, seemed to have left the command post flummoxed. From the ground, the officers could hear explosions going off somewhere in the high floors of the depot. No police helicopters had arrived, and no one gave an order to storm the building. On the Baltic Sea, Swedish fighter jets were put on standby but ordered not to take off.
Near the loading dock, a G4S employee fleeing the building called the company’s security center to describe the scene. “That was a real fucking bang!” he said after one explosion.
“Are the police on site?” the operated asked.
“Police on site… I can only see one patrol.”
“One or two wimps with fucking pistols!”
“Yes, OK. Some more will probably arrive.…”
“I sure hope so.”
Petersson located the command post and asked to speak to the commanding officer. When one cop brushed him off, he tried another. “I am the chief of security,” he insisted. “I have a laptop, I can tap into the CCTV.” After finally convincing an officer to let him in, he dictated details of the robbers from the live security cameras, which at present were showing three masked men standing outside cages filled with bricks of cash. The roof was deserted. “They have a Kalashnikov. They are wearing gas masks and vests.” The staff members in the cash room, he now knew, had escaped to the second floor. But they were crowded into the airlock outside the vault. Petersson wanted the SWAT team in there to protect them. On the cameras, he could see that there were no bombs obstructing the entrance.
Up on the sixth floor, one of the robbers was bathed in a cascade of yellow sparks as he carved into the cages’ padlocks with the saw. Five seconds on each one and it fell to the floor. He laid down the saw, and the three men began methodically filling gray canvas postal sacks with bricks of cash from the red plastic bins inside. The saw, still running, buzzed in circles like an angry upturned insect.
Soon the robbers seemed to sweat and stumble. “Even the criminals expected the police were going to do something,” Petersson remarked later. They’d taken 15 minutes to enter the cash room, and after several minutes their money collecting grew more haphazard. They hopped from one cage to another, leaving bins of cash untouched and accidentally kicking piles of bills onto the floor. At 5:41 the man with the holstered pistol made an uncertain move toward an unmolested cage, backtracked, then dropped his empty sack and hustled away. It was time to go.
The helicopter had been hovering above the building, with a view of the roads surrounding the depot and of the spectators taking in the scene. When the men reemerged at the atrium, the pilot guided the chopper back down to the roof. Two of the robbers dragged several sacks out using hand-sewn straps and set about pulling them up the ladder; the third hauled his sacks up using a rope with a carabiner affixed to the end. At the top, the men piled the sacks into the back of the waiting aircraft.
The robbers had been in the building for 24 minutes, and now they were straining to port their take, most of it in heavy packs of 500 kronor bills, down and up two ladders. One slipped and cut himself, and his blood dripped onto the bottom step. Then, almost precisely 30 minutes after they landed, the men retreated, abandoning bags of cash at the base of the ladder as they scaled up to the chopper. They grabbed the last of their haul from the roof and jumped in. The moment the doors clicked shut, the helicopter lifted off.
The police watched helplessly as the Bell 206 withdrew into the breaking dawn, its flight captured by nearby gawkers on their cell-phone cameras. The assault teams continued to hold back. “Are there still explosives in the building?” an officer asked the stunned Petersson. I don’t know what the problem is, Petersson would later remember thinking. This is the elite team of the police. This is your job.
Just before 7 a.m., the first SWAT team entered the front door of the building using Petersson’s access card. Petersson trailed a few feet behind, directing them through the hallways. They found the cash counters hiding safely in the second-floor vault, having finally convinced the staff inside to let them in. A few minutes later, a second tactical team rushed the building with a handheld battering ram, preparing to force their way in through the same door. A news photographer snapped a picture as the officers poised to smash it in; by noon the photo would be splashed across newspapers and Web sites worldwide. Just out of the frame, as the glass shattered, Petersson’s deputy had tried to explain that the door was already unlocked.
Witnesses later recalled seeing the helicopter push off to the southwest, and a few minutes later the pilot set it down in a gravel pit not far from Norsborg, near the city’s rough southern suburbs. One or more of the men climbed out before the helicopter quickly lifted off again and started flying north to Lake Mälaren, an hour outside Stockholm.
Two men out for an early walk on a trail in the lakeside park heard a helicopter either hover above or land atop a large patch of grass near the shoreline at Kanaan Beach. After a few minutes, they heard speedboats roar off into the lake. A year later, locals walking through those woods would still wonder if the G4S money might be hidden nearby. But given Sweden’s interconnected waterways, a boat on Lake Mälaren Lake could access dozens of marinas or even navigate out to the ocean.
From the lakeside, the helicopter flew to a heavily forested park near Täby, a small town north of Stockholm. The pilot descended into a meadow near a track, killed the engine, opened the door, and walked away. On the floor, he left a pile of plastic zip ties and a Garmin handheld GPS unit.
A half hour later, at five minutes to seven, a bearded man in a charcoal suit and open-collar shirt wandered into the Täby McDonald’s. He approached the counter and asked if he could borrow a telephone. When the clerk handed him one, he called a taxi company, told the dispatcher his name was John, and ordered a car to central Stockholm.
At the hangar in Myttinge, the bomb-disposal teams turned a water cannon on the blinking containers, blasting them apart. On closer inspection, they appeared to be cheap plastic toolboxes with red LEDs wired through the lids, powered by standard nine-volt batteries.
Inside the TV4 newsroom in Stockholm, reporters were riveted by the robbery. They’d been covering it almost nonstop since it started. Around lunchtime, a new bit of info came over the wire: The helicopter used in the heist, police had determined, had been stolen from Norrtälje, well north of the city. One staff reporter, Fredrick Malmberg, suddenly remembered that a producer he’d worked with in the past named Alexander Eriksson owned a helicopter up in the same area. If it was Eriksson’s that had been stolen, Malmberg would have a scoop. He called Eriksson on his cell phone and asked if he’d heard the news about the robbery. Eriksson said he hadn’t, that he’d been up late preparing a marketing presentation for the wind-power company. In fact, he was in the car on his way to the meeting, to which he was already late. In any case, he said, his helicopter couldn’t have been the one stolen: It was being repaired.
At 7 a.m., the prosecutor Leif Görts spoke on the phone with an officer in the RKP’s organized-crime squad. “Get dressed, comb your hair, and get down here,” she told him. “And put on the TV while you do it.” A local news crew had captured live pictures of the helicopter as it lifted off from the roof and was replaying it in a near constant loop. They did it, Görts thought. Goddamn it, they did it.
There were two international story lines: the robbers’ guts and the police department’s incompetence. “I’ve never experienced anything like it!” an overexcited Stockholm police spokesman blurted to a Swedish newspaper. It didn’t help matters that an enterprising reporter had added an embarrassing but untrue detail, soon included in every story—that the fake bombs in Myttinge had been labeled bomb on the outside. What to international audiences appeared farcical was to the Swedish media an outrage. “It’s just embarrassing that criminals can knock out the police with tricks from a book for boys,” the columnist Lena Mellin wrote the next morning in Aftonbladet, a national daily.
The thieves were likely disappointed as well. Three assailants, a pilot, at least one explosives expert, a fake-bomb messenger, multiple street teams to delay police—a crew large, sophisticated, and well-funded enough to plan a $150 million robbery—had only gotten away with 39 million kronor, or about $6.5 million.
Those were the same facts that Leif Görts, co-prosecutor Björn Frithiof, and the two heads of the police investigation had to work with when they sat down to begin the pursuit. Instantly, catching the robbers became Swedish law enforcement’s highest priority, and the job was transferred out of the Stockholm police department to the national authorities who’d been tracking it before it happened. Dozens of the RKP’s best officers were assigned full-time to the case. I’ll never be in a position like this again in my life, realized Görts. I have all the resources of the police at my disposal.
The robbers, as fastidious as they’d been in their planning, had left a fair amount of evidence behind. The police found spiked chains on five roads around the depot. Inside, a forensics team recovered blood from the ladder. They’d also found potential DNA traces, on the zip ties used to secure the ladders, and on the sledgehammer and an unused frame of explosives. At the helicopter’s final landing site, the police recovered the GPS device, with the previous night’s destinations programmed into it. Investigators scoured the area and then, based on a tip, commandeered the security tapes from the local McDonald’s. When they interviewed that morning’s clerk about the bearded man who appeared on the video at 6:55 a.m., he told them the man had borrowed a phone and ordered a taxi.
All of those leads would take weeks to chase down. The most important question now was what to do about Bojovic. The RKP had kept up surveillance on the Tall One even after the mid-September false alarm. Now Görts and his colleagues scanned the transcripts and noticed Bojovic chatting with Milan Sevo right up to September 23. Then the conversations stopped—until 8:13 a.m. the morning of the robbery, when the onetime Stockholm Mob boss sent Bojovic a three-character message:
Jonas “Jocke” Hildeby was riding a commuter train the morning of the robbery, listening to the live reports on his handheld radio. A 27-year veteran of the police force and the RKP, he was unsurprised by the event. There’d been rumors of a big robbery in the works. Now things would get busy.
Hildeby has close-cropped gray hair, and his typical uniform consists of jeans, sneakers, and a tracksuit jacket. His particular skill is geographical profiling, and he is often employed in serial murder and rape cases. “If a psychological profiler is telling you who you are looking for,” he liked to say, “my job is to tell them where to look.” Nowadays, geographical profiling often centers on cell-phone analysis. At the RKP, Hildeby held the title of investigation analyst. He was part of a seven-person team, which included two programmers and a former academic, charged with untangling the “where” of complicated crimes.
By the end of the first day, Hildeby had in hand a list of all the calls passing through the cell towers within range of the depot that had been made within several hours of the robbery. Fortunately for Hildeby, the robbers had chosen a time of day when most people were asleep. He and his team built a database of the telephone traffic, which eventually included 18,000 telephone numbers and over 300,000 calls. Then they turned the investigation into an elaborate math problem.
The key to understanding the cell-phone data emerging from any type of criminal conspiracy, Hildeby knew from previous cases, is finding a closed circuit. Even the dumbest perpetrators watch enough movies to know to use untraceable prepaid phones. But any group sophisticated enough to execute a robbery like this one would know something else: to use those prepaids only to call other prepaids. What Hildeby’s team was looking for was a set of phones that stayed within their own miniature network. “If you get one cell-phone number, you can build it out,” he said. “That number is speaking to three numbers, and they are speaking only to certain others.” Eventually, the circuit closes in on itself.
After four days of sifting, the team identified a closed circuit of 14 phones, all of them disposables, and many of them used around the time of the heist. The phones had called only each other in the weeks leading up to the robbery. And after the morning of September 23, none of them had been used again. Hildeby and his team meticulously traced each phone’s call history, then used the cell-tower information to determine where each call was made. Cross-referencing the locations against dozens of call times allowed them to speculate on how each step of the robbery had been coordinated.
2:55 a.m., Myttinge: Phone 1, near the police heliport, calls the organizing phone—phone 5, waiting at a rendezvous point—to report the return of the police chopper from its routine flight.
3:13 a.m., Norrtälje: Phone 2, outside the hangar where the helicopter used in the heist was stolen, checks in with phone 5.
3–4 a.m., Västberga: Phones 8, 11, 12, and 13, on the ground near the G4S depot, coordinate among one another and report back to phone 5 that they are standing by with caltrops and chains.
4:38 a.m., Norrtälje: Just before the stolen helicopter lifts off, phone 2 alerts phone 5 that the hangar has been breached. Five minutes later, phone 2 is airborne, en route to the rendezvous point.
4:43–5:02 a.m., rendezvous point: Phone 5 joins phone 2 on the helicopter, along with the other men and the equipment for the robbery.
5:13 a.m., Myttinge: Phone 1 confirms to phone 5 that the fake bombs are in position. The stolen helicopter departs the rendezvous point for G4S, a few minutes away.
5:18–5:50 a.m., G4S: While the robbers are inside, phone 4 communicates with ground teams about the situation outside the cash center.
5:40 a.m., Kanaan Beach: Near where witnesses report hearing boats on the water, phone 7 makes one last call to phone 2, aboard the helicopter, before communication within the circuit ceases for good.
Layered on top of one another, the cell traffic created a map of the crime from start to finish. Hildeby’s, however, was a map without faces. None of the phones had been left behind, and the police didn’t know who had used them.
Finding the pilot seemed the obvious place to start. As of September 2009, 552 people in Sweden held active helicopter licenses. It wasn’t an impossible number to investigate, but it would take significant legwork. Also, the pilot could easily have come from outside the country; Sevo had mentioned a candidate in Switzerland. But the investigators had to start somewhere. They began sifting through the database, cross-referencing it with criminal records.
Norrtälje is 42 miles from Stockholm—a significant distance from the robbery’s target. It seemed odd that the robbers would be familiar with it. So the investigators also checked the list for licensed pilots who’d used the same base. One showed an address in Ljusterö, not far from Norrtälje: Alexander Eriksson. In fact, Eriksson’s own helicopter was stored at the same heliport in Norrtälje where the G4S bird was stolen.
The 34-year-old TV producer was an unlikely choice to be the getaway pilot in one of history’s most daring robberies. He lived with his ex-wife and children in an upscale neighborhood among the posh archipelagos along the northern coast. His father ran a successful investment company. The younger Eriksson had been arrested twice in the past decade, on a drug charge and a gun-possession charge, but both were minor offenses carrying no jail time. He seemed to be a harried but well-employed family man who’d been trying to keep himself clean.
Indeed, the investigators might have passed Eriksson over entirely. But one officer, noticing the address on his helicopter registration, happened to remember a detail from the surveillance reports on Goran Bojovic. The meeting on Skeppsholmen, the bearded man, the Peugeot—hadn’t it also been registered to an address in Ljusterö? Görts went back and reran a check on the car. It was registered to Eriksson’s wife.
A licensed helicopter pilot had sat down with Bojovic on September 2, shook hands, and gone on his way. A week later, Bojovic had been wiretapped saying, “We can stop looking.” Two weeks after that, the helicopter was stolen from a commercial depot near where the pilot kept his own chopper. For Görts and his colleagues, it was one coincidence too many. It came as little surprise when interviews revealed that Eriksson had trained on, and occasionally borrowed, the Bell 206 JetRanger used in the robbery.
The investigators weighed the option of leaving both Bojovic and Eriksson on the street for a while, tailing the two men to see if either led them to the money or to other conspirators. But they couldn’t afford another slipup. If one of the suspects somehow escaped the country, they might never get him back. At a meeting on Friday, September 25, the team decided to be aggressive. On Sunday evening, they arrested Bojovic at his apartment. He’d been driving a new BMW around town, and in his closet they found a bag containing 118,000 kronor.
The next morning, the police stopped Eriksson at Stockholm’s international airport, checking in for a flight to the Canary Islands.
“You must be kidding!” Bojovic said when his interrogators told him that he was suspected in the G4S heist. “That’s idiotic.” He knew what this was really about, he said. He’d read in the news that police suspected people from the former Yugoslavia, perhaps the notorious Pink Panther jewel-thief gang. “Sure, I am a Yugoslav. I am from Montenegro,” he told his interrogators. “But hell, not all of us are criminals.” During days of questioning, Bojovic did little but spin stories about his construction business and ask for a lawyer.
Eriksson, on the other hand, seemed to be talking freely. And why wouldn’t he? He’d never heard of any Goran Bojovic. And besides, he had an alibi. He told the interrogators that he had, embarrassingly, had a drug relapse the night of September 23. As a result, he’d gotten into an accident right around the time of the robbery, at the other end of Stockholm. The man he’d swapped information with, Marcus Axelsson, would have the time-stamped photos to prove it. Eriksson didn’t mention visiting the McDonald’s in Täby. But when the interrogators revealed that they had evidence he’d been seen there—indeed, the man in the store’s surveillance video was clearly him—he suddenly recalled that, after colliding with Axelsson, he’d ended up at a hazy late-night party near Täby. It ended with him having to order a taxi, having somehow left his car back in downtown Stockholm.
Under the Swedish justice system, accused criminals cannot trade information for lenient sentencing or immunity, nor can prosecutors promise leniency to flip the accused. Görts and his colleague Björn Frithiof had no leverage on Bojovic or Eriksson. But they had enough evidence to keep the pair locked up while they tried to identify the rest of the robbery team.
Charbel Charro, Bojovic’s onetime close associate, had for years been on the list of the hundred or so top criminals in Stockholm. That meant the police could roust him at their pleasure. On the night of September 27, four days after the robbery, two local patrol officers noticed Charro and three friends pulling up in a car outside a club called Café Opera and decided to do just that. They questioned the passengers, found nothing suspicious, and inspected the trunk. Inside, one of the officers noticed a July 2009 receipt from the Phone House in Malmö, in the far southwest of Sweden. It showed the purchase of five Sony Ericsson prepaidphones and five SIM cards with consecutive numbers. The officer pulled out his own cell phone and took a photo of the receipt, then returned it to the trunk. The police let Charro and his friends go. In their routine report of the stop, the officer listed the prepaid-phone and SIM-card numbers.
The next day, an officer working on the case noticed the report on Charro. Hildeby had known Charro for years, dating back to when the investigator worked patrol and Charro was just a troublesome teenager. The list of SIM-card numbers on the receipt caught his eye. Was it remotely possible? He typed the numbers into his team’s database of closed-circuit phones and got a hit. The officer showed the information to Görts. “What number is it?” Görts said, suddenly jumpy. “Goddamn it, it’s phone number 2! Where did you find it?”
“It was in Charbel Charro’s trunk,” the officer said.
“Charbel Charro?” Görts asked.
“Yeah, the guy who has been meeting with Goran Bojovic.”
The database match showed that one of the phones on the list had not only been used during the robbery but had also been used inside the helicopter. Hildeby traced the histories of the other phones. Three had been used in the previous month in a second closed circuit the investigators identified. And Charbel Charro had been using one to call his mother. Several days later, the police picked him up in Norsborg, not far from the gravel pit where the helicopter made its first stop after the robbery.
By early October, forensic results were slowly putting the investigators on to other members of the conspiracy. DNA from the gloves and lighters at the Myttinge fire implicated a 23-year-old named Nemanja Alic, a newsstand vendor with an affinity for American gangster films. DNA traces on a rubber band used to secure the detonator wires matched that of a man named Mikael Södergran, who had a previous explosives conviction in Sweden. Once the police had identified him as a suspect, they discovered that Södergran, a friend of Charbel Charro, had been using one of the phones from the Phone House receipt.
The blood found on the ladder at the G4S depot, meanwhile, identified an even more notorious figure: a 31-year-old Iraqi-born Swede named Safa Kadhum. In 2000, he’d been part of a crew that stormed the Swedish National Museum just across the bridge from Skeppsholmen. Arriving at closing time, the thieves had brandished automatic weapons and made off with two Renoirs and a Rembrandt while elsewhere in the city two cars exploded. They’d used similar spikes and chains to those found around G4S and departed by speedboat with the estimated $30 million worth of art.
The police captured Kadhum and seven other participants after the robbers sought out a ransom for one of the Renoirs; Kadhum served two years in prison and was released in 2006. The other two paintings weren’t recovered until five years later, when the FBI caught Kadhum’s two brothers trying to fence the Rembrandt in a Copenhagen hotel room.
This time, Kadhum had been the trigger man; his DNA was found in five places inside G4S, and an analysis of the surveillance tapes pegged him as the man with the Kalashnikov. And he was on the lam again. In mid-January 2010, after a tip-off from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the RKP finally caught up with him in the Dominican Republic. Ten masked Dominican police rushed Kadhum and a fellow Swede as they went to dinner in a small resort town near the border with Haiti. The next day, Swedish authorities put Kadhum on a private plane back to Stockholm.
By the summer of 2010, Görts and Frithiof had charged 10 suspects. These included the two men with chains who were stopped near Västberga the morning of September 23 and two more who were arrested for staging the traffic accident that Eriksson used as his alibi. Eriksson, it turned out, had loaned his Audi to a friend the night of the robbery. The friend claimed to have returned it, but there was reason to believe he hadn’t. Phone records showed that both Eriksson’s friend and Marcus Axelsson, the man driving the Toyota, had ties to Bojovic and Charro.
The joint trial began in early August and lasted six weeks. Because the courthouse had a flat roof, which security officials believed invited a helicopter landing, the proceedings were conducted in a makeshift courtroom in the basement of the Stockholm police headquarters. Two Swedish tabloids each sent a reporter to cover every minute of the trial. Some of the G4S staff on duty the morning of the robbery mingled with the accused’s relatives, who disrupted proceedings by shouting the men’s innocence.
The prosecution’s case against Bojovic and Charro relied almost entirely on Hildeby’s phone work. The geographical profiler produced a 300-page report laying out in excruciating detail how the planners had communicated. The transcripts of the wiretaps of their “social phones,” as Hildeby called them, showed little direct connection to the robberies. But the volume of calls on the prepaid cells—the “robbery phones”—showed the extent of their planning. “We were just sitting there, so bored. Phones this, phones that,” Linda Hjerten, the reporter covering the trial for Aftonbladet, said. “And then the light bulb went on and we realized what they were doing, which was very clever.”
At first both men denied owning the robbery phones. But Hildeby’s analysis showed that every time two of the robbery phones had been used, it had been within a few feet of Bojovic and Charro’s own cell phones. When asked on the stand about this extraordinary coincidence, Charro was forced to revert to a joke. “I don’t know,” he said, “maybe someone was following me.”
Bojovic, meanwhile, exuded composure as the prosecutors confronted him with surveillance video and transcripts, along with Google searches for Bell helicopters that he’d conducted in the weeks leading up to the robbery. “It’s dangerous to cut and paste,” he told the court. The discussions with Charro and the Serbian, Sevo—a longtime family friend, he said—were about construction projects. They’d been desperately seeking a crane operator for months and had even put up some money for a Serbian guy who didn’t work out. Bojovic recalled that the man looked so much like Tom Cruise in Top Gun that he’d started calling him the Pilot.
The oddest twists in the case, though, involved Eriksson. His father spoke to any outlet that would listen, arguing that the evidence against his son had been manufactured. It was “inconceivable” that Alexander would commit the crime, he told police, given that his son already had a good income and the ability to rely on his wealthy father. “We have never skimped on our kids,” he said.
Representing Eriksson was Sweden’s most famous and flamboyant criminal defense attorney, Leif Silbersky, a kind of Swedish Johnny Cochrane. Silbersky, 71, had written two dozen crime novels in addition to representing a roster of Sweden’s most famous accused—including, recently, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. During Eriksson’s case, the lawyer argued that his client wasn’t trained to fly helicopters in the dark and produced a teenage witness whom the prosecutors had interviewed but left out of their disclosures to the defense. The witness testified that she’d seen the helicopter flying low after the robbery and the pilot had looked nothing like Eriksson. The defendant himself, meanwhile, offered an elaborate account of a night out on a memory-obliterating drug binge, the drugs bought from dealers he refused to identify, based on calls made from a phone he said he’d thrown away. All of which culminated in his mysterious arrival at the McDonald’s in Täby.
The prosecution, however, had plenty of trump cards to play: Eriksson’s DNA was found on the GPS device and the zip ties used to attach the ladders to the helicopter. When Eriksson argued that the samples must date from the last time he’d borrowed the chopper, prosecutors called a witness to describe a log book that showed he hadn’t flown it since June 2008. Another witness testified that she’d been a passenger when Eriksson flew successfully in the dark. But most damning of all was the meeting on Skeppsholmen. Confronted with Annika Persson’s testimony, both Eriksson and Bojovic were forced to admit that they had met—and their memories didn’t appear to line up. Eriksson claimed that he’d been talking to the supposed construction executive about a wind-power project. Bojovic said that Eriksson had wanted to buy cocaine. And then, of course, there was the matter of Eriksson’s multiple, coincidental connections to the stolen helicopter. “Barn i huset,” Görts told the court, employing a Swedish idiom describing someone who is familiar enough with a location to come and go as they please. “He is like a child in the house.”
In early November, the court handed down the verdict. Alexander Eriksson was found guilty of stealing and piloting the helicopter and sentenced to seven years in prison. Safa Kadhum also got seven years for storming the depot with an assault rifle. (Faced with DNA evidence, Kadhum claimed that he had been forced into the crime to pay a debt and he’d thought the depot would be empty of people.) The Tall One, who had already been sentenced to four years in prison for an unrelated arson—a crime the police had connected to him using the wiretaps—got another three for planning the G4S robbery. Charbel Charro, his co-planner, received a five-year sentence, based largely on the phone analysis of Hildeby. Neither of the planners could be definitively placed in the helicopter. The explosives expert, Södergran, also got five years after barely contesting the charges. The two men who staged the traffic accident were sentenced to less than two years apiece.
The men who’d been detained on the morning of the robbery carrying the chains and locks, meanwhile, were acquitted. The police hadn’t seen any caltrops on them, and possessing chains wasn’t proof enough that they’d set others on the street. Nemanja Alic, the gangster-film fan accused of placing the fake bombs, made perhaps the greatest escape. He’d argued away the DNA evidence by saying he’d loaned his gloves to someone else and had handled plenty of lighters in his job at the newsstand. He was freed in part on the basis of a gait expert who testified that an ankle injury would have prevented Alic from running like the man on the Myttinge surveillance tapes.
The outrage surrounding the robbery prompted the Swedish parliament to pass a law designating cash depots protected facilities. A few of Johan Petersson’s guards were now allowed to carry weapons and search cars parked around their buildings. Petersson ordered a new steel door from the blacksmithing company, this one designed and tested to hold up under a 30-minute assault, and had fencing and barbed wire installed on the roofs of all G4S depots. But he wasn’t optimistic about future police responses. “We have our police to protect the citizens,” he said. “I told them, You don’t need to bring your SWAT team and your police cars to our cash center next time if you aren’t going to do anything.”
In mid-November, Leif Görts sat in his office in jeans and a white V-neck T-shirt, paging through the dozen large binders containing nearly 10,000 pages of documents about the case. He’d spent almost every working hour with the G4S robbery over the past year, and now after a couple weeks off he was preparing for hearings on the defendants’ final appeals. That would mean retrying the entire case before a higher court. He’d quit smoking 15 years ago but found himself, in times of high stress, popping nicotine gum like candy.
In the end, he calculated they’d likely caught fewer than half the perpetrators. The investigators still retained hope that the money could be found, but Görts’s experience in money-laundering cases told him it could easily have passed through Russia into Swiss bank accounts or, perhaps more likely, been used on drug shipments. And even if they found part of the money, at this point there would be no way to prove that the unmarked cash had originated at G4S. “It was the best money to steal,” said Görts, and the robbers knew it.
They also knew “what the floors looked like, the windows, the doors, what they had to blow up,” Görts added. “It’s clear that some information was loose and it was given to them.” Interviews with the G4S staff had failed to turn up an inside source, but the RKP was still actively searching, suspecting that perhaps a contractor or temp had sketched out the measurements. One lead investigator suggested that the building’s plans could have been floating around Sweden since 2006, waiting for the right team to utilize them. He admitted a grudging respect for how the criminals had put the heist together. “For this constellation of people, to get them to do the right thing at the right moment, that’s interesting,” he said. “Getting to our police helicopters to put the bomb traps there, stealing the helicopter, having other people coming from Stockholm with ladders and explosives, and creating this car accident for the alibi: Everything is happening at the same time. And that’s what I think is quite good—logistically.”
With Bojovic and Charro in prison, the investigators could at least be confident that the immediate planners of the robbery had been locked up, if not perhaps the mysterious forces that had backed them. Of course, the prosecution had identified only one of the men who entered G4S itself—or at least, so said the court. Görts pulled out a notebook and flipped to Charro’s mug shot. “As a lawyer, I would say we only know what the hard-core evidence leads us to,” he said, angling his head down to look knowingly over his glasses. Then he flipped to a still from the G4S surveillance footage showing a balaclava-wearing robber in profile. Görts tapped his finger over the man’s ample nose, which bore a striking resemblance to the one in the mug shot. “One can speculate,” he said. The third robber at the depot that night remained at large.
Mostly, Görts remained baffled by Eriksson. The prosecutors had delivered evidence showing that he was struggling financially. He’d sunk deeper into debt than he’d let on to his family. Yet even with the financial incentive, and even though they’d managed to paint Eriksson as a man with a taste for dark thrills, it didn’t really add up. “He’s a smart guy. He has a wife and two kids. He is very much appreciated for his work,” Görts said, popping another piece of nicotine gum. “He had it all, but then he fucks it up. You would need a psychologist to understand it.”
Görts himself is moving on to a position with the European Union, where he will be part of a group working to increase cooperation among prosecutors and investigators across the continent. Recently, Swedish criminals had branched out to cash robberies in Finland and Denmark. “We know from experience there are a group of people in Sweden that are prepared to take part in actions like this,” Görts said. “Some say 200. There’s no science in that number, but they are still around. If they are given an opportunity, they will do it again. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this.”
On February 16, 2011, an appeals court in Stockholm returned its verdict on the case of the accused plotters and participants in the G4S robbery. Alexander Eriksson and Safa Kadhum were punished for gambling on an acquittal: The court increased both of their prison terms by a year. The rest of the sentences, for Goran Bojovic and others, remained intact. Nemanja Alic, the man accused of planting the bombs at Myttinge, had his own acquittal upheld.
In March, Eriksson, Kadhum, and Bojovic appealed their sentences to the Supreme Court. Eriksson’s lawyer Leif Silbersky suggested that at the final stage—Eriksson's last chance to avoid his lengthy prison term—his client would be presenting entirely new evidence of his innocence. One local tabloid reported that Eriksson’s family planned to hire private detectives to help track down the real helicopter pilot.
For the authorities, the appeals court decision opened up the possibility that, with little now to lose, one or more of the robbers might choose to tell their version of the events that night. As for Görts, he’d already grown weary of the case that swallowed a year of his life. “This is the end, and that’s nice,” he said. “I’ve been chewing this gum for a long time. There’s no taste left in it.”