Brazil arrests 6 suspects in $6M tunnel heist

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 1:43 PM

Authorities arrested five men and one woman accused of tunneling their way to nearly $6 million over the weekend while Brazil was gripped with football fever, but detectives recovered only a tiny fraction of the stolen cash, police said Tuesday.

Officers surrounded the suspects in a house late Monday, and chased them when they tried to run away, Sao Paulo's public safety department said in a statement.

Seized from the house was a bag of money emblazoned with the logo of the armored car company thieves reached by tunneling 150 yards (150 meters) into the firm's safe. The statement said just $2,400 was recovered, along with a van thought to have been used in the heist.

Authorities said they have identified other suspects thought to have taken part in the robbery, and were searching for them.

Those arrested, ranging in age from 20 to 31, were identified only by their initials. The detained woman told authorities she was a housewife. The men arrested listed their jobs as driver, salesman and mechanic. All denied involvement in the robbery, police said.

The statement did not say when they might be charged.

Authorities believe the thieves spent months tunneling from a rented house to the armored car company, Transnacional Transporte de Valores e Seguranca Patrimonial Ltda., and finally struck on the last weekend of the football season, when the league championship and relegation matches had Brazilians across the nation glued to their televisions.

A security guard at the building heard a loud noise about 5 p.m. Sunday as the most important game was under way, but figured that it was another one of the fireworks sports fans had been setting off throughout the afternoon, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported.

Firefighters who inspected the tunnel told the G1 Web site of Globo TV that it was about a yard (meter) high and a yard (meter) wide. Neighbors told G1 a young couple with a baby had been living in the house, which was decked out with Christmas decorations.

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Associated Press Writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that 5 men and 1 woman arrested sted 6 men.)