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Thieves make off with $43.5-million

A gang of armed robbers impersonating police officers tied up employees at a southern England security company and stole the equivalent of $43.5-million, the Bank of England said Wednesday in disclosing one of the largest bank heists in British history.

The money, about 25-million pounds in bank notes, was stolen overnight from a cash center at Tonbridge in Kent county, a bank spokesman said on condition of anonymity, according to bank policy.

No one was injured in the robbery.

The bank spokesman also said it was possible that more than $43.5-million was stolen, but the final figure will not be known until the security company completes its accounting.

The heist at Securitas Cash Management Ltd. began when some of the thieves, dressed as police officers, stopped the firm's manager as he drove home Tuesday. The manager got into their car, which he believed to be a police vehicle, and was handcuffed by the robbers, authorities said.

At the same time, another team of thieves went to the manager's house, saying he had been in an accident. The men persuaded his wife and young son to leave the home and go with them.

The first team, with the manager in the car, met up with a white van and another group of thieves. The manager was placed in the van, which then headed toward the Tonbridge depot, police said.

The manager allegedly was told to cooperate or his family would be hurt.

Early Wednesday, the thieves in the van headed to the Tonbridge depot to meet up with accomplices driving a large white truck. The thieves tied up 15 employees and started loading cash into the truck, police said.

It is believed the thieves were in the depot for more than an hour before driving off with the cash, police said.

About an hour later, the staff managed to escape and call police.

The depot, on a small industrial estate, is surrounded by 6-foot-high steel fencing, and security cameras cover every entrance. There are no signs to indicate the building stores vast amounts of money.

MAJOR HEISTS

The top five major bank robberies around the world, in order of amount taken:

1. $900-MILLION: (Amount in U.S. bills and as much as $100-million worth of euros) Iraq Central Bank, Iraq, March 2003. The thefts took place at the beginning of the U.S. invasion and were blamed on members of Saddam Hussein's family.

2. $70-MILLION: Central Bank in Fortaleza, Brazil. Theft occurred sometime during weekend of Aug. 6-8, 2005.

3. $65-MILLION: Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Center, London, July 12, 1987.

4. $50-MILLION: Northern Bank, Belfast, Ireland; Dec. 20, 2004. Widely blamed on the Irish Republican Army.

5. $43.5-MILLION: Security company cash center at Tonbridge in Kent county, southern England. The Bank of England said on Feb. 22, 2006, the robbery had occurred overnight.

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