Tuesday, June 25, 2013


$1.2 Million in Cash Is Stolen From a Passenger-Jet Shipment

When passengers boarded Swiss International Air Lines Flight 17 from Zurich to New York City last weekend, they probably had no idea that the cargo hold beneath their feet was also functioning as a bank vault, carrying tens of millions of dollars.

An American bank was sending cash from its Swiss office back home — something that occurs with surprising frequency, even in the digital age. While money can be wired, credited, debited and transferred around the world in a split second, there has never been more American currency in circulation, and the amount keeps growing. And that cash moves around frequently, often carried discreetly in the belly of commercial airliners.

Someone, it seems, was wise to the shipment on the Swiss plane.

By the time the cash reached its destination, a Federal Reserve center in the New York area, over $1 million dollars had vanished.

“We are investigating the apparent disappearance of $1.2 million in U.S. currency,” James Margolin, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said on Tuesday.

Much about the theft remained unknown, including exactly where and when the money went missing.

The last time the money was seen was before it was loaded onto the plane in Zurich, according to a law enforcement official who insisted on anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

The cash that was stolen – 12 packets of $100 bills, each totaling $100,000 — had been placed in a secure container that was then placed inside a larger container, the official said.

The flight arrived at Kennedy International Airport at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The container was unloaded and sent to the Federal Reserve center. Only when it arrived there did the authorities discover that the money was missing.

“What we don’t know is at what point in the journey that the money disappears,” the law enforcement official said.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Reserve in the New York area did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The name of the American bank involved in the transaction was not released. The news of the theft was reported on Tuesday by The New York Post.

Every day millions of dollars in physical currency is moved around the globe for a variety of reasons.

The Federal Reserve is at the heart of the system that keeps cash flowing, ensuring that currency in circulation is not damaged and that there are enough bills to meet demand, in America and abroad.

Currently, there are some 32 billion pieces of currency in circulation, worth $1.15 trillion, and that supply is growing by 7.5 percent to 10 percent a year. (That does not include money held in Federal Reserve Banks themselves.) The dollar remains the global currency of choice, and roughly half of all the United States currency in circulation is held overseas, according to government statistics.

Given that the average life span of a dollar bill is only five years, billions of dollars’ worth of currency are destroyed annually, replaced with clean, crisp notes. Because money can only legally be destroyed at a Federal Reserve facility, banks will often send money to the agency to process.

Susanne Muhlemann, a spokeswoman for Swiss International Air Lines, declined to comment on the theft.

The airline, through its Swiss WorldCargo division, promotes itself as a global leader in the shipment of valuable goods.

“Valuables consignments today extend far beyond gold, money and precious gems,” according to a brochure for the airline. “An ability to transport highly confidential documents, lifesaving medicines, paintings and other works of art, valuable collections and computer chips safely and securely has never been more essential.”

Despite safeguards that include a computer-based tracking system and the briefing of all significant individuals in the supply chain to ensure loyalty and discretion, it remained a mystery how $1.2 million vanished.

An airline official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was no indication that the money had been stolen from the plane. However, the American law enforcement official said it was too early to reach any firm conclusions.

If the money was stolen at Kennedy Airport, it would rank as one of the largest robberies in the airport’s history — in 1978 an estimated $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels were stolen from a Lufthansa Airlines cargo building, a crime that was dramatized in the movie “Goodfellas.”

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