When thieves escaped on a boat with a sack of casino cash

Tuesday 4th February 2020

One of the most dramatic recent hold-ups took place 10 years ago on Monday when masked gunmen raided the Casino di Venezia on the Vittoriosa seafront and then escaped on a boat with almost €500,000 in cash.

A gang of four men entered the premises, housed in a former Knights of Malta palazzo, pointed pistols and shotguns at the receptionist and demanded cash. Some of them rushed up to the first floor, where the slot machines and gaming tables were located, taking cash from clients and tills. A security officer was ordered to lie on the floor.

The raid took place at about 7.15pm and was over in just over three minutes. The gang, carrying a sack with the cash, dashed out, boarded a waiting Pajero vehicle and drove a short distance to a waiting boat near the slipway close to the entrance of Fort St Angelo.

They dumped the car into the sea and escaped in the boat which was seen leaving Grand Harbour.

The police and the Armed Forces of Malta launched an air, land and sea search using cars, a helicopter and patrol boats but no trace of the boat was found.

As the search continued in various parts of the island, investigators questioned the casino's employees and patrons and viewed the images captured by a number of security cameras in the building and along the waterfront.

Footage from a Times of Malta webcam overlooking Grand Harbour was also inspected by police.

No one was ever caught. The exact amount of the haul was never disclosed.

In the days immediately after the theft, the police interviewed a number of persons but no one was arraigned.

Times of Malta had reported that investigators suspect that the thieves were Maltese and may have been linked to the attempted hold-up on a bank security van in Sta Venera on January 4.

The men spoke in Maltese and there was no hint of a foreign accent. Among those questioned was a security guard on duty at the entrance to the waterfront that evening. It was usually the practice for these personnel to ask those driving onto the quay for their details.

Investigators also examined a wig and a scarf found inside the Pajero dumped into the sea.

The heist involved at least six men, four of whom entered the casino, while a fifth waited for them in the Pajero which had been stolen earlier in the week. Another waited on the speedboat.

The hold-up was recorded on closed-circuit television cameras inside and outside the casino and along the waterfront.

The casino closed a few years after the hold-up.

In the earlier security van hold-up, a pickup truck, a motorcycle and a bulldozer blocked the path of a security van carrying about €2.8 million in Qormi Road, Sta Venera.

The bulldozer was used to ram the back doors of the van but the robbery went wrong when the doors would not buckle and shots that were fired failed to shatter the bulletproof glass. The thieves were forced to abandon the robbery and escape in a white van that was then set alight at the Mrieħel industrial estate.

As with the casino heist, that attempted hold-up was bold and carefully planned. Another getaway vehicle was waiting at the nearby industrial estate and diesel had been poured on the road to prevent anyone from following.

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