Swiss bank robberies (and bank robbers) are not among the most famous. Switzerland may not iconize its bank robbers in the same way that Hollywood immortalized Bonnie and Clyde or John Dillinger, but when it comes to scale, Swiss bank robberies are hard to beat. Bank heists have a romantic appeal all their own. As a banking capital, Switzerland has hosted some of the most and least spectacular bank robberies in history. Perhaps a deeply concealed desire to break out of the constantly increasing control to which we are subjected causes us to empathize with both the cleverest and dumbest antiheroes who are willing to take a chance.
For better or worse, here is our pick of the most and least impressive Swiss bank robberies of all time.
1. The Fraumünster Post robbery of 1997 – 53 million francs
The Fraumünster Post Office heist could well compete with the Great Train Robbery of 1963 for a Guiness world record as the best-planned robbery in history. In any cases it remains the biggest Swiss heist in terms of scale. With the help of an inside man, a PTT-branded car and a carefully premeditated plan, a small taskforce stole 53 million Swiss francs from the high-security depot of Zurich’s Fraumünster Post Office.
Unfortunately for the bank robbers, their excellent planning skills did not extend past the actual theft. Both the gang and a large part of the stolen money were apprehended in the months that followed. They may not score in terms of long-term vision, but who cannot help feeling awed by a couple average Joes with the nerve to help themselves to 53 million francs in broad daylight without using violence?
2. The Ethereum hack of 2016 – 50 million francs
In case you are worried that digital currency might spell the end of big heists, the Ethereum robbery of 2016 should put you at ease. Ethereum blockchain technology, developed by a foundation based in Zug, was hailed by enthusiasts as the future of money. That is, until an unknown tech wiz skimmed 3.6 million Ether out of a decentralized autonomous organization (a sort of blockchain-based bank).
Although the theft led to a sharp drop in the value of Ethereum at the time, the booty was still worth around 50 million francs after devaluation. There may be nothing daring or exciting about a computer geek stealing digits from the safety of a living room in some country far away. Still, a hacker who can knock a hole in the blockchain favorite of megacorporations like Microsoft, J.P Morgan and Intel and get away with it has got to be a genius.
3. Geneva SBG robbery 1990 – 31.4 million francs
On March 25, 1990 a group of armed men held up the Geneva branch of the Schweizerische Bankgesellschaft (which would later become UBS) and promptly cleaned out over 31 million Swiss francs from the bank’s safe.
Police arrested several men presumed to have been involved in planning the heist, including a local tennis teacher and a bank security guard. But the robbers themselves – along with the money they stole – disappeared without a trace. Although the thieves apparently two-timed the inside men, which claim they never saw a centime of the stolen money, they earned an instant place in the hall of bank-robbery fame as one of the few gangs of outlaws to steal that kind of cash and never get caught.
4. Dumb Daniel case 2009 – 10,000 francs
If ever there has been a bank robber who most of us can sympathize with, it’s Dumb Daniel. While planning and scale did not feature in the robbery of the Aargauische Kantonalbank in Baden, this robbery was likely one of the most spontaneous and pathetic in recent Swiss history. After waking up on the wrong side of bed, the youngster who would become known as Dumb Daniel used a toy gun to threaten bank personnel and demand 500,000 Swiss francs.
Unfortunately for him, he settled for a paltry 10,000 francs and headed off to Mallorca, where thanks to collaboration agreements between Swiss and Spanish authorities, he was arrested just days later. If the Fraumünster Post Office theft were to make the Guiness book of records as the best-planned robbery of all time, the Baden hold-up would be a strong contender for the worst-planned bank robbery of all time.
5. The “Frying Pan Robbery” 2011 – 400,000 francs
The robbery of 400,000 francs from the Zürcher Kantonalbank in Seebach played out like something between a b-level comedy and a “Breaking Bad” episode. An apparently disillusioned high school teacher entered the bank lugging a clumsy travel bag in his wake. Politely, he informed bank personnel that he needed a billion Swiss francs for a world tour, but would settle for 400,000 francs for a start. He followed this request with a mild threat of “consequences” if the demand was not met.
Surprisingly, the bank attendant handed him the requested money, which he placed in his travel bag (alongside his “weapon” – a frying pan) and wheeled away, promising to repay the money at a later date (which he did in fact do, upon being arrested). What landed this robbery a place in our top 7 was not the thief’s curious approach or the bank attendant’s unquestioning grant of his request, but the fact that this has got to be one of the most chilled bank holdups in the history of crime.
6. The love-sick desperado 2014 – 80,000 francs
This 21-year-old hoodlum may not have deliberately intended to debunk claims that Swiss aren’t a particularly romantic lot, but he did a good job of it nonetheless. After being arrested in Paris five months after threatening staff at UBS’ Sargans branch with a gun and making off with 80,000 francs in cash, the young chap claimed that he robbed the bank for love. According to his story, he saw no other way to pay the 100,000 francs necessary to free his Russian girlfriend from the long-term modeling contract which kept them apart.
Although the money was apparently spent on everything but freeing his lady love from her contractual obligations, the young man with racing emotions and no previous criminal history deserves a mention for his role in taking Swiss bank robbery to new romantic heights.
7. The cable car fugitive 2016 – unknown
What escape vehicle would you use if you fell on the wrong side of the law? A helicopter flight to another country? A fast car to out-cylinder the cops? Forget those clichés. After a 54-year-old dental technician held up employees of the Luzerner Kantonalbank in Weggis, he decided that riding a cable car up the Rigi would be the perfect getaway plan. The logic may seem difficult to understand, considering that a cable car is literally a one-way street to a dead end. Apparently it didn’t work out too well for this “Bandits” wannabe. The police simply rode the next cable car up and arrested him. After all, there wasn’t exactly anywhere to run to.
Oddly enough, the part-time outlaw had, apparently, robbed several banks before this, and gotten away with it. Given his choice of getaway vehicle, we don’t understand how that was possible. While there is nothing original about this character’s story (middle-aged family man who desperately needed money) or his robbery style (cap, hoodie, sunglasses, gun), he is probably the only bank robber in history to flee the cops in an 18 km/h cable car.