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CRIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

But successful attacks on ATMs are highly lucrative.

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

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

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

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

'Audi gang'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting back

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

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

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

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

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

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

But successful attacks can be highly lucrative.

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

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CRIME

German woman ‘killed lookalike to fake her own death’

A German-Iraqi woman murdered a lookalike she found on social media to fake her own death, police have said as new details emerge of the bizarre case that first came to light last year.

German woman 'killed lookalike to fake her own death'

The body of a 23-year-old woman was found in a car in August at the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt with multiple stab wounds.

Police initially said they believed the victim owned the car, but the next day identified her as someone else who looked “remarkably similar”.

The 23-year-old German-Iraqi and a 23-year-old Kosovan man were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

However, police are now working on the theory the pair murdered the victim after tracking her down online because she looked similar to the German-Iraqi.

“Investigators now believe the female suspect wanted to go into hiding and fake her death due to family problems,” they said in a statement Monday.

She had contacted several women who looked like her via social media and attempted to lure them into meeting her by making “false promises”, the police said.

She contacted the victim in early August and arranged to meet her on August 16.

The German-Iraqi woman and the Kosovan man travelled to the victim’s home in Heilbronn, near Stuttgart, to pick her up.

On the way back to Ingolstadt, they allegedly lured her out of the vehicle in a wooded area and killed her, inflicting “a large number” of knife wounds.

The suspects then continued on to Ingolstadt, where the body was found lying in the car in the evening.

According to the daily Süddeustche Zeitung, the German-Iraqi was a beautician who entrapped the victim via Instagram by offering her cosmetics.

Both women had “long brown hair, a dark complexion and a heavily made-up face”, the newspaper said.

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