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Bank of Ireland Employee Steals Millions To Pay Ransom

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DUBLIN — A Bank of Ireland employee was coerced into stealing an estimated euro7 million ($9 million) from his own branch Friday, police said, after a gang took his family hostage and threatened to kill them unless he cooperated.

So-called "tiger kidnappings" _ when gangs seize families of bank officials and force them to breach their employers' security _ are common crimes in Ireland, a close-knit society where criminals can closely track their targets. But they typically involve thefts below euro1 million.

Friday's operation represented by far the biggest robbery in the history of the Republic of Ireland. It nonetheless paled in comparison with a similar 2004 raid in the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland, when two Northern Bank employees were forced to help a gang take more than 26 million pounds ($50 million) from the bank's central Belfast vault.

Police Superintendent John Gilligan said a six-strong masked gang armed with handguns and a shotgun targeted the Bank of Ireland official, Shane Travers, at his rural home southwest of Dublin on Thursday night.

They tied up and took away his partner Stephanie Smith, her 5-year-old son and her mother and warned him not to call police before clearing out money from his branch the following morning.

Travers did as instructed, collecting cash from the safe in four laundry bags at sunrise Friday, hours ahead of opening time. Police did not explain how he avoided raising suspicion among the overnight-shift security guards or avoiding them. They said he delivered the cash to a gang member at a northwest Dublin train station.

His partner and her family, meanwhile, had been left in a van parked near Ashbourne, a commuter town north of Dublin. They managed to work themselves free from their restraints and raised the alarm _ about an hour after Travers had handed over the loot.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and the police commander, Fachtna Murphy, discussed the police efforts to identify the gang _ and how to compel banks to tighten their security arrangements.

Ahern emphasized that the bank branch at College Green, beside Trinity College in the tourist heart of Dublin, should never have permitted any single employee the ability to gain access to so much cash.

"Criminals are going for the line of least resistance, the human connection," Ahern said.

He said Travers failed to follow bank rules requiring police to be informed _ on the understanding police would not move in prematurely and jeopardize the lives of hostages.

He said there was "an onus on the banks and the financial institutions generally to ensure any gaps shown from this particular incident are closed and closed very tightly. It is a fact that the (police) didn't know about the incident until the money had actually left the bank premises, and under normal protocols that shouldn't be the case."