2 Japanese men arrested over $17.4 million ATM heist: Police, media

A woman walks past a sign announcing the start of UFJ Bank's 24-hour ATM service at a branch in central Tokyo, on March 31, 2004.
A woman walks past a sign announcing the start of UFJ Bank's 24-hour ATM service at a branch in central Tokyo, on March 31, 2004.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO (AFP) - Two Japanese men were arrested on Tuesday (May 31) for allegedly stealing money from an ATM, with local media reporting they were part of a coordinated nationwide heist that netted millions of dollars earlier this month.

The theft on May 15 reportedly involved about 100 members of an international gang each making a series of withdrawals from 1,400 ATMs around the country in less than three hours, Japanese media reported.

The haul totalled 1.4 billion yen (S$17.4 million), according to the reports, with cash-dispensing machines in Tokyo and Osaka among those targeted.

Tatsuo Nakazono and Katsuya Sahashi, both 28, were arrested on charges that they used fake credit cards to withdraw 1.2 million yen from ATM machines at two convenience stores in central Japan on or around May 15, said a spokesman with the Aichi Prefectural Police.

The suspects conspired to withdraw and steal the money "by using (fake) credit cards" a total of 12 times, the spokesman told AFP, though he would not elaborate or comment on the status of the investigation into the coordinated theft.

The spokesman, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, identified the men's occupation as labourers.

Kyodo News, along with other major media including the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, said the arrests were part of the broader, nationwide heist.

That was allegedly carried out by thieves armed with fake credit card details from South Africa's Standard Bank.

It was not clear how the gang made off with the equivalent of millions of dollars so quickly as the cash machines usually limit withdrawals to 100,000 yen a day.

Standard Bank acknowledged the heist and put its losses at around US$19 million.

The lightning-fast raids began early on the morning of May 15, a Sunday, when banks were closed, according to Japanese media.

Similar robberies have occurred in recent years, including a pair of heists totalling about US$45 million that saw a group of cyber thieves disable withdrawal limits on ATMs around the world.