I’m Kento Bento.
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Tokyo, December 10th, 1968.
It was pouring rain.
The bank manager of the Nihon Trust bank was on edge.
Someone had threatened his life and those around him
over the past few months.
Just four days prior,
a letter, one of recent many,
was sent to his personal residence demanding 300 million yen
or his house would be blown up with dynamite.
The letter was made up of characters
cut out and pasted from movie magazines.
Police were notified,
and indeed they kept a close eye on the bank and his home,
though, this did not ease the mind of the bank manager
who shared his concerns with his branch employees.
当然了 在日本 工作就是工作
Now of course, this is Japan, and work is work;
the show must go on.
With this in mind, the bank manager went on with his duties,
sending four of his employees to the nearby Toshiba factory
to make a scheduled drop.
So off they went, taking the company car,
but not long after leaving the bank,
the four heard police sirens approaching.
At that very moment
they happened to be next to a prison of all places.
A police officer screeched to a halt in front of the car,
and frantically got off his motorcycle to warn them.
The branch manager’s home had just been blown up,
people were injured, and some presumably worse.
Despite police monitoring the locations,
the perpetrator was still able to carry out his threat.
But it wasn’t over, additional threats were made.
The bank in particular was now a target
and branch employees were at risk,
especially those who had left the bank earlier
to carry out bank duties in clearly-marked company cars.
Their car needed to be searched.
The officer got down underneath to check the car,
but before he could do a proper search,
an employee started noticing
smoke and flames emerging from the vehicle.
Fearing the car was about to explode,
the officer desperately tried to roll out of the way.
Everyone ran as fast as they could to safety,
retreating behind the prison walls.
They waited and waited for the explosion.
But there was no explosion.
They looked back, and realized the company car was gone.
The police officer was gone.
Had he moved the car to safety?
Confused, they called the Nihon Trust bank to find out
what was going on.
To their relief, the bank manager answered,
he was alive and well.
In fact, everything was fine there,
the bank manager’s home was never blown up.
As the adrenaline wore off,
it finally dawned on them what had happened.
This was the moment
the perpetrator had been setting up the past few months.
Disguised as a police officer,
he had now gotten away
with what was to be the bonus payments of 523 Toshiba employees;
the stolen amount totaled to 300 million yen
or six million dollars, the exact amount he had asked for.
On the ground they found various items left behind
including a warning flare
that the officer must have ignited while under the car,
to mimic dynamite.
A reported 120 pieces of evidence was left behind at the crime scene,
which is a lot and would normally be beneficial,
but this was purposely done to mislead the investigation.
Half a century later, the case remains unsolved.
Some say this was the greatest heist in Japanese history,
there was no loss of life, no blood spilt,
the plan meticulously carried out by a single person,
and in the end the money taken,
but there are many ways a bank heist can be great,
there are many ways it can be notable.
Take the case on May 15th, 2016.
At around 5:00 a.m. in the early hours,
cash was physically withdrawn from an ATM
from a Tokyo 7-Eleven.
The amount was 100,000 yen, about $880
which was the cash limit.
Now this doesn’t seem too bad,
but try repeating this 14,000 times across Japan
in the span of just two hours.
Because that is exactly what happened.
In total, 1.4 billion yen, about 13 million dollars,
was taken from ATMs alone,
and this wasn’t done electronically.
It was done in person.
Sure, it had to be some sort of a large coordinated group,
but the staggering number of transactions in a two hour frame
made even this seem questionable.
Compared to other notable cases,
the largest known recorded number of participants
to have been involved in a single heist,
wouldn’t have been able to pull this off either,
unless they had super powers.
Involving an even larger team would presumably be unwise,
as there’d be too many chefs in the kitchen.
Now after police completed their painstaking process
of checking security footage of each 7-Eleven store
and yeah it was only 7-Elevens hit,
they found their answer.
In this particular case, the more chefs the better.
这不是一个50人 100人 或200人的组织
It wasn’t a team of 50, or 100, or even 200.
It was 600 people.
600 people pulling off a sophisticated,
highly-coordinated heist using fake credit cards.
Quite the contrast from the single perpetrator of our first heist.
most people have surmised with this many active participants,
there must have been links to a large crime organization.
But as of today, despite the numbers,
no one of note has been caught.
Now here’s a quick one.
August 7th, 1994.
540 million yen was stolen from Fukutoku Bank,
which is a sizeable amount,
but what makes this story so unique
is that 10 days after the heist,
the bank, still reeling from the events,
received a note from the robbers.
The note read Thank you very much for the bonus.
We can now live on this loot for the rest of our lives.
It was a sincere message of gratitude.
Yeah we all know
the reputation Japanese people have for being polite
but this took it to another level.
So, the last three cases involved
plans being executed perfectly with no loss of life,
but not the case with the next one.
We’re going way back.
January 26th, 1948.
Again in Tokyo, a man in his forties
walked into a branch of the Imperial Bank,
just before closing time.
16 people were inside including customers and bank workers.
He got everyone’s attention
and explained he was a government health inspector
sent by the US occupation authorities.
Remember, this was postwar Tokyo,
still under US occupation.
The man stated
there was a sudden outbreak of dysentery in the area,
and he was to carry out inoculations.
In postwar Tokyo,
the disease was a legitimate threat
so no one really doubted him, add to the fact
the man was wearing an official government armband.
He gave all 16 people a pill,
and a few drops of liquid, which they quickly drank.
Now, it wasn’t long, until they fell,
one by one, in agony.
With everyone incapacitated,
the so-called health inspector
grabbed all the money he could find, and calmly left
12 of the 16 people would later be confirmed dead,
including a young child.
The solution they drank was a cyanide solution.
This was a ruthless way to go about a heist,
but what made this even more strange was that
the man left behind a business card,
he left it at the scene.
The card was marked with the name Shigeru Matsui,
apparently from the Department of Disease Prevention,
which does make sense
since he was pretending to be a health official.
But Shigeru Matsui turned out to be a real person,
who actually worked for the Department of Disease Prevention.
Not surprisingly, upon investigation Matsui was cleared,
he was not the robber, he had several alibis.
But he told police
he had exchanged business cards with 593 individuals.
Japanese people have the habit of exchanging business card,
with personal details,so this was helpful,
as police now had 593 suspects.
Over time, they were able to whittle down this number
to just eight cards, eight suspects,
one of which was a man named Sadamichi Hirasawa,
a Japanese painter.
When Hirasawa was questioned and asked
to produce the card of Shigeru Matsui’s
which he should have had, he could not.
He claimed it must have been in his wallet
which was stolen the other day.
He was a victim of pickpocketing.
Police had a feeling they knew exactly where the card was.
When asked to produce an alibi, he could not.
When police looked into his history,
they found four previous cases of bank fraud.
When they searched his possession,
they found a similar amount of money to that stolen from the bank,
Hirasawa suspiciously refused to divulge how he got the money.
Finally, when his face was shown to eye witnesses,
they immediately identified him as the poisoner.
Upon further interrogation, Hirasawa confessed.
He was arrested for the robbery and the murders,
and in 1950, he was given the death penalty,
he was sent to death row to await execution by hanging.
Or is it?
Because after the trial, some had doubts
whether Sadamichi Hirasawa was indeed the perpetrator.
Everything mentioned was circumstantial.
In fact, it was revealed
his confession was viciously beaten out of him, allegedly tortured,
and it was only two of the eyewitnesses
who identified him as the criminal.
Perhaps he was telling the truth.
Perhaps he was really a victim of pickpocketing as he claimed.
The unexplained origin of the money in his possession
was also thought by some to be from
his side business of drawing pornographic pictures,
revealing this truth to police, and to the public,
would have been detrimental to his reputation as an artist.
There was also no way
Hirasawacould have realistically obtained the ingredients for what
turned out to be a military grade cyanide solution used in the robbery.
some have claimed that the true culprit
was actually a former member of the notorious Unit 731,
a covert biological and chemical warfare research
and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army,
that undertook lethal human experimentation during wartime.
If so, this would explain the accessibility to the poison.
The Minister of Justice himself doubted Hirasawa’s guilt
and so never signed the death warrant.
This opinion was shared by successive Ministers of Justice,
so the death sentence was never actually carried out.
And so Hirasawa sat in prison, on death row,
for the next 32 years of his life,
one of the longest tenures ever on death row.
And on May 10th, 1987, he caught pneumonia
and died in a prison hospital.
Despite the verdict, the case was never truly put to rest,
and many people felt that
the true culprit,all those years ago,
would have been within grasp if only the focus was on the right person.
This brutality happened in 1948,
but 70 years on,
there would emerge a new type of heist.
January 25th, 2018.
Land of the rising cyber-crime,
the Tokyo-based exchange, Coincheck,
one of the most prominent virtual currency exchanges in Asia
was to fall victim to the biggest cryptocurrency heist in history.
At 2:57 a.m., using overseas servers,
hackers disguising themselves
as authorized users, were able to enter the system.
They remained undetected for the next eight and a half hours,
stealing 58 billion yen worth of the cryptocurrency NEM,
which is about $530 million dollars.
Then they were gone.
This incident became an embarrassment to the Japanese government
who had been trying to make Tokyo the global center for cryptocurrency.
Coincheck revealed they failed to implement
the required extra layer of security,
but even worse
the stolen currency had been kept online in a hot wallet
rather than in a much more secure offline storage facility
known as a cold wallet.
This is similar to if a convenience store
kept significantly large amounts in a cash register
instead of an off-premise bank vault.
Now one of the stranger aspects of the heist is that
the stolen virtual funds were able to be traced online,
because transactions for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are all public.
And so the $530 million worth
was eventually traced back to 11 specific addresses,
but the identities of those sending and receiving the money
unfortunately remained anonymous.
Indeed no one yet has been caught,
but the developers of NEM were able to label the 11 addresses
with specific warning tags for all to see,
they also set up a tracking tool
to automatically reject exchanges involving the stolen funds.
Of course the most frustrating part of this
is that it all easily could have been avoided
if Coincheck just added that extra layer of security.
And really it’s not just big companies,
most people today are too laxed when it comes to online security
using the same password for every account they have.
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