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Sep 11, 2018

Major Heist: US$406,000 Stolen from Kortobacco Belize Ltd.

A major heist took place in the wee hours of Sunday morning at the Benque Free Zone at the Western Border. Masked men targeted Kortobacco Belize Limited and stole more than eight hundred thousand Belize dollars. According to police, in a one-hour period, four masked men were captured by security cameras breaking into the building.  A fifth man stood watch as a blowtorch was used to break the doors to the building. The men went directly to the where the cash was being held, leading investigators to believe that it was an inside job at the company that sells Korean cigarettes. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Benque Viejo Police are investigating what could be the biggest heist in Belize’s history.

 

Al D. Sattler

Al D. Sattler, C.E.O., Benque Viejo Free Zone
They had to be crazy to have that kind of money in any building. Money in that quality belongs in a bank not in some store.”

 

That store is Kortobacco Belize Limited located inside the Benque Viejo Free Zone at the Western Border. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, the store was targeted by four masked men who were captured by security cameras breaking into the establishment. Security footage shows the four masked men, armed and wearing long sleeves shirts and gloves, using a blow torch on two metal doors located on the side of the building to get access into the building. Once inside the building, the men proceeded exactly to where the cash was stored,  a total of four hundred and six thousand US dollars.

 

Joseph Myvett

ACP Joseph Myvett, Head, National Crimes Investigation Branch

“Upon making checks with the manager, a total of four hundred and six thousand U.S. dollars was missing; supposedly the sales of one month. The company is involved in the sale of cigarettes. According to police information the security guards discovered the damages to the building shortly before four-thirty a.m.”

 

Two security officers employed by Heads Security Company were on duty at the time the heist took place but they told police that they were at the gas station inside the free zone and did not see or hear anything. Investigators have interviewed several persons including an employee of Kortobacco Belize. The burglary has all the characteristics of an inside job-one which was strategically planned and successfully carried out.

 

Al D. Sattler
Somebody know exactly where to cut, how to cut and where the money was.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

 

“You believe it was an inside job? “

 

Al D. Sattler

 

“Yes. Definitely.”

 

ACP Joseph Myvett

“That is also being looked at as one employee is being interviewed in relation to the investigation.”

 

Reporter

“Is that employee a security guard?”

 

ACP Joseph Myvett

“No the employee works within the building, but is not a security guard.”

 

Investigators believe that the burglars got access into zone by prying open a section of the chain link fence that delineates the zone.

 

Al D. Sattler
“Any machete can cut that fence. We are fixing holes in that fence on a daily basis. People use to cut holes in the fence for shortcuts, for heist, you name it.”

 

Kortobacco has been operating inside the free zone for four years. It is one of twelve operating companies. Its only product is cigarettes, primarily Pine cigarettes which are produced in South Korea by KT & G, a company with annual revenues of more than four billion dollars.

The Smuggling of tobacco is a multimillion-dollar industry in the region. In 2017, a cigarette smuggling ring was busted in Guatemala. The ring is believed to have originated in Belize which is seen as the hub of cigarette smuggling in the region.

 

ACP Joseph Myvett

Yes that is being looked at as a part of the investigation. We are following several leads as well in relation to the investigation.”

 

Reporter

“Is the Financial Intelligence Unit a part of this investigation?”

 

ACP Joseph Myvett

“They will become. Since it happened over the weekend, they will be onboard sometime later today.”

 

Al D. Sattler
They made the news about an year and a half ago when one of their managers got stopped in El Salvador with five hundred thousand dollars cash and is sitting in jail in El Salvador on a money laundering charge, I think, for ten years.”

 

ACP Joseph Myvett

“We have been having discussions with the Guatemalan authorities with regards to this burglary as well.”

 

The thieves got away in a vehicle believed to have been waiting for them outside the fenced free zone. Reporting for News Five I am Hipolito Novelo.

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