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Robbers in ¥384 million Fukuoka cash heist may have known victim’s moves in advance

Kyodo

Men who allegedly robbed a Tokyo gold merchant of ¥384 million in the city of Fukuoka on Thursday may have known his activities ahead of time and thoroughly planned the heist, investigative sources said Friday.

On Thursday, a man from Tokyo’s Adachi Ward told police that he was sprayed with something before the thieves took a money-filled bag from him in a parking lot across the street from a Mizuho Bank branch in the Tenjin district at around 12:25 p.m.

According to investigators, the man, a 29-year-old employee of a precious metals shop in Tokyo, said he traveled to Fukuoka Tuesday to buy gold and had informed the bank he would withdraw the money on Thursday. He reportedly said he had visited the city a number of times for business.

Four South Koreans carrying a huge sum of money the same day were stopped at Fukuoka airport following the heist and questioned by police in connection with the robbery, but investigators said Friday that it was unlikely that they were involved.

The men were found carrying about ¥730 million but did not fit the description given by the victim, the police said. They were arrested, however, for failing to report such a large sum of money to customs officials at the airport.

The 42-year-old president of a company in Seoul said Friday that the men were employees of the South Korean company and denied they were involved in any robberies. The president said they were carrying money provided by a Japanese national to purchase vehicles.

Thursday’s robbery was the nation’s fourth-largest since World War II, according to the National Police Agency.

The Fukuoka Prefectural Police set up a 155-member task force to investigate the alleged robbery, which occurred in an area bustling with offices and shops.

It is believed three people were involved, including two attackers who were wearing white masks. One of the attackers was wearing gray work clothes and the other was clad in black working clothes with a white head covering, the police said.

The third suspect was apparently waiting in a white van in a coin-operated parking lot. The victim was robbed of a carry-on bag containing the cash as he returned to his vehicle after leaving the bank.

The three robbers fled the scene in the van, which was parked just a few spaces away from the man’s vehicle.

A woman who was in a building beside the parking lot said, “A man was shouting while chasing after the white van in the parking lot,” adding that the vehicle broke the entrance barrier to the parking lot as it rushed out and onto a narrow backstreet.

The man suffered minor face and throat injuries, the police said.

Another witness said the driver of the van was wearing a mask and the rear windows were tinted black.

A woman who was working in a shaved-ice trailer near the parking lot said she heard screeching tires and saw a white van speeding off, and that she heard the man shout “thieves.”

The man was quoted as telling police he was in Fukuoka on a business trip and the money was to purchase gold bars.

Last July, gold bars worth around ¥600 million were stolen near JR Hakata Station in the city while being transported to a cash-for-gold store.