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Half of European banks robberies happen in Italy

Just as robbing banks loses its appeal among Europe's criminal classes, Italy's small-time crooks have proved the exception by attempting just over 3.000 robberies last year, 57 percent of the European total.

New figures released by the Italian banking union FIBA showed Lombardy in northern Italy was a favourite haunt of masked bandits, with 640 successful robberies compared to 274 in Sicily.

Nationwide, bank clerks now face a one in 10 chance of being held up every year, FIBA wrote in its staff magazine. Overall, European robberies dropped from 5,685 in 2005 to around 5,400 last year, with the UK suffering just 122 hold-ups in 2005, of which only 30 were successful.

"These are not the tunnel-digging professional gangs of the 1970s but a growing number of small-time crooks robbing small branches, usually armed with knives not guns", said FIBA spokeswoman Angela Cappuccini.

As robberies grow, the average haul from successful raids has dropped to around €20,000 (£14,000), the Italian government reported, compared to an equivalent average take of €43,796 in the UK and €83,333 in the Netherlands.

Italy's numbers have followed the growth in bank branches, up 1,800 since 2004 to reach more than 32,000, representing 784 retail banks. A prisoner amnesty last year which freed thousands of criminals also appears to have helped push heists up a further 26.3 percent in the first half of 2007.

One Ferrara bank clerk, Stefano Bellettati, told La Repubblica that after being robbed nine times in 11 years, one heist stood out. "Four robbers with wigs and masks came in speaking English, French and Spanish among themselves to avoid identification and fled on bicycles".

Source: The Guardian
Date: 17.10.2007 [116]

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