10 of the Biggest Robberies in History

Some people stole more than the net worth of some countries

Andrei Tapalaga ✒️
Aug 6 · 9 min read
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A masked man poses as a bank robber during a demonstration of a German device that protected cash and sounded an alarm during a robbery (1931)

SStealing valuable resources, artifacts, or pure cash had always been an impending moment throughout history. In many cases, it had been proven not a good choice as most of the delinquents up to such mischief have fallen into the hands of authorities or dead to the ground. However, some of these delinquents have made the perfect plan and managed to get away with sums of cash that have added up to have a higher worth than some countries.

(All the values given for each robbery are not inflated, they represent the exact value that had been stolen at the time.)


10. British Bank of the Middle East, 20th of January 1976, Beirut, Lebanon

25 Million Dollars Stolen

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Picture of the Bank after the Heist

The 1970s saw the consolidation of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) led by Yasser Arafat, whose goal was to lay the foundations of a homeland for the Palestinian people. They were at war. And wars cost money, a lot of money!

Lebanon was in the middle of a civil war, and in this chaos, an OEP-affiliated group broke into 12 banks, the largest of which was the British Bank of the Middle East. The group came out with 25 million pounds in gold, jewelry, and currency, which today would have been worth over 100 million dollars.

The group detonated the wall of the bank that was shared with that of a neighboring Catholic church. With the help of some Corsican locksmiths, the thieves opened the safe and took everything they caught — for two days! Subsequently, some of the stolen goods were sold back to the owners.


9. United California Bank, 24th of March 1972, California USA

30 Million Dollars Stolen

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Harry James Barber’s FBI report

30 million dollars may not seem a lot today or compare to other robberies, but back in 1972, it was big money. If inflation is taken into account, today it could be equivalent to over $ 100 million. It was a world record at the time. A group of seven people from Ohio, led by Amil Dionisio, broke into a United California Bank branch in Laguna Niguel, California, and looted the bank’s safe. Given that the policy regarding safe deposit boxes was not to state their contents, only an estimate of the stolen amount could be made. Eventually, the thieves were caught by the FBI. One of those involved, Phil Christopher, wrote a testimony about the robbery in the book “Super Thief”.


8. Knightsbridge Security Warehouse, 12th of July 1987, England

90 Million Dollars Stolen

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Guns and money recovered from the robbery

Valerio Vicci emigrated to England from Italy in 1986, where he was wanted by police for more than 50 armed robberies. He decided to continue with his old habits in the new homeland, where, together with an accomplice, he entered the headquarters of the Knightsbridge Security Warehouse and asked to rent one of the safes. After the two were taken to the safe, they attacked the manager and the guards. Valerio put out a sign saying that the warehouse was temporarily closed to prevent other customers from entering, and then let other accomplices by creating his own entry.

The gang of thieves began looting the safes at will and stole an estimated £ 60 million (around 90 Million US Dollars) which today stands at a fabulous £ 174 million (around 220 Million US Dollars). Police were not alerted until an hour after the robbery, which gave the thieves enough time to flee the scene. Valerio fled to Latin America, and his accomplices were arrested. However, at one point, Valerio returned to England to retrieve his abandoned Ferrari but was arrested. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He was killed in 2000 on the day of his release in Italy, following an exchange of fire with the police.

7. Harry Winston, 5th of December 2008, Paris, France

108 Million Dollars Stolen

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One of the robbers filmed by a security camera

Four gunmen broke into the downtown Harry Winston-owned luxury jewelry store shortly after closing time. Three of them were dressed in women’s clothing and wore wigs. After they stole the jewelry from the display boxes, they forced the store employees to open the safe in the back as well, as if the jewelry in the store, which was worth millions of dollars, was not enough.

They “cleaned” the jewelry store without firing a bullet. The next day, after finding out about the robbery, it was found that the stock of Harry Winston's company decreased by 9%. The store had also been looted a year ago when thieves stole 10 million euros in jewelry. 25 people were arrested for robbery, aged between 22 and 67.


6. Antwerp Central Diamond Center, 16th of February 2003, Belgium

110 Million Dollars Stolen

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The Diamond Center’s vault after the robbery

80% of the world’s cut diamonds pass through Antwerp. And thieves know that too. The city has a fairly rich history of robberies, but one, in particular, has gone down in history — both in terms of the amount stolen and the method used by thieves. The number of safes was so large that thieves simply could not carry everything and were limited to 123 out of 189 safes.

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Leonardo Notarbartolo

Leonardo Notarbartolo, a 30-year-old career thief, was the leader of the criminal group. It took several years to plan in detail the robbery in which at least 4 people were involved.

They rented office space in the building where the safe was located three years in advance, and here Leonardo claimed to be an Italian diamond dealer to gain the trust of others. He set up meetings and had a few small transactions. Nobody suspected anything. When it came time to act, they inserted fake tapes into the surveillance cameras to cover their tracks. The safe was protected with 10 levels of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a locking system with 100 million possible combinations.

The robbery was considered the theft of the century, and even now the police cannot explain exactly how it was done. Notarbartolo was caught after one of his accomplices made a mistake and forgot to burn a garbage bag with compromising clues. Gems worth more than $ 100 million were never found, and Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The situation is even more interesting as the defendant claimed to have been hired by a Jewish diamond dealer, and they managed to steal only $ 20 million worth of diamonds, as many of the safes were already empty. He said he believed his gang was, in fact, being used in a wider insurance fraud process. But police denied the possibility.


5. Schiphol Airport, 25th of February 2005, Amsterdam

120 Million Dollars Stolen

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Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

The Schiphol Airport heist is the largest diamond robbery in history. The estimated amount is 120 million dollars because many of the precious stones were not cut, which makes it more difficult to specify their value, this means that their worth could have been even bigger. If most of the robberies involved careful planning and impeccable execution, this was more rudimentary. Two weeks before the robbery, four people stole a KLM cargo truck [KLM is a Dutch airline] and KLM uniforms to dispel last-minute suspicions so they could walk through the airport security areas without being disturbed.

On February 25, the thieves went directly to a KLM truck carrying a large safe containing uncut diamonds which was heading to Antwerp. Under the watchful eye of many witnesses, they threatened the drivers, asking them to get out of the car, and fled in the truck. Because they knew exactly which truck was the target, police suspected it was a planned action from inside. It was the second time in six months that a crime had taken place in the airport terminal. Several people were arrested in this robbery due to a large number of suspects.


4. Bagdad Bank, 12th of July 2007, Bagdad Irak

282 Million Dollars Stolen

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Picture of the money inside the safe before being stolen, estimated at 282 Million US Dollars

Dar Es Salaam bank employees came to work one morning and were stunned to find that the doors were unlocked, the safe was open, and all the money was missing. Three bank guards were believed to have fled with the $ 282 million safe — more than the economies of small countries! It is not clear why there was such a large amount of cash in the bank, but it was all US dollars. It is suspected that the guards also had the help of some militiamen, in order not to be caught at the security points around Baghdad. No one was brought to justice for the crime, and the money was not recovered. The press did not discuss the incident too much at that time.


3. Gardner Museum, 18th of March 1990, Boston USA

300 Million Dollars Stolen

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Empty picture frames tossed on the floor in Gardner museum

This was the largest art robbery in history. Two men dressed as police officers convinced two inexperienced Gardner Museum guards that they had been summoned following a complaint. Contrary to the museum’s policy, the two guards allowed the “police” to enter the museum, where they soon learned that everything was a scam. They were handcuffed and locked in the museum basement.

Surprisingly, the two thieves managed to do this without any weapons on them. Then, in the next 81 minutes, the two sat down and leisurely chose 12 pieces of art that together were worth $ 300 million the value of 25 years ago. Among the stolen paintings were 3 works by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Then they took the tapes from the surveillance cameras and left, and nothing was heard of them.

However, in 1994 an offer was made to return the paintings for $ 2.6 million and to guarantee immunity from justice. But then nothing was heard from the person who wrote the offer. Most likely the thieves were not art lovers, as they damaged a series of paintings and left behind much more valuable works. The case has not been resolved and there is still a $ 5 million reward for any information about the artwork.


2. Theft of Treasury Bills, 2nd of May 1990, London

384 Million Dollars Stolen

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A canceled £1million Treasury Bill that was one of the last ever to be produced

John Goddard was a 58-year-old postman who worked for Sheppards, who was robbed while carrying a briefcase on a quiet alley in London. The briefcase contained 292 million pounds in bonds(around 384 million US dollars). Goddard delivers treasury bills from banks and construction companies. The law on these says that whoever carries them is considered the owner.

He was threatened with a knife, while an accomplice of the offender collected 301 treasury bills, most worth £ 1 million each. Keith Cheeseman was arrested in connection with the crime and received six and a half years in prison. Police believe the robbery was committed by Patrick Thomas, but he was found dead by shooting himself in the head. Except for two receipts, all were recovered by police.


Bank of Irak, 18th of March 2003, Bagdad, Irak

1 Billion Dollars Stolen

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Some of Qusay’s gold found by the US Army, one bar weighing about 40 kilograms and worth 2.1 million dollars per gold bar

Some robberies require careful planning, others used brute force. But the biggest robbery in history was as simple as it was effective. Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s fiefdom, so the Central Bank of Iraq was “his personal bank account.” The day before Coalition forces began bombing Iraq, Saddam sent his son Qusay to withdraw on his behalf with a handwritten note pretty much all of the cash inside the bank.

Qusay oversaw the withdrawal of $ 100 paper-filled safes in a five-hour action that enriched the dictator with $ 1 billion. He was unlucky, as his son was later killed by US forces, and after Saddam’s capture, about $ 650 million was found by American soldiers hidden in the walls of one of Saddam’s palaces. The other $ 350 million was considered lost because it could no longer be found.


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Andrei Tapalaga ✒️

Written by

Avid Writer with invaluable knowledge in Business Studies, History and Psychology. “You make your own life” atapalaga97@gmail.com

History of Yesterday

From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

Andrei Tapalaga ✒️

Written by

Avid Writer with invaluable knowledge in Business Studies, History and Psychology. “You make your own life” atapalaga97@gmail.com

History of Yesterday

From the times that the pyramids were raised to the end of the cold war in this publication you will find it all. This is a publication that has been created to tell the stories of forgotten battles and fortunes that have crafted the world that we live in today.

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