After stealing a large sum of money from an AUA plane at Tirana airport, the armed forces are responding by dispatching soldiers to secure the airport – and blaming the Chinese operator.

Tirana Airport Robbery

Albania’s security forces are working at full speed. Special forces of the unit Renea searched the village of Dritas near Tapiza. On Wednesday it was announced that the police have already arrested four people. They are suspected of being involved in the raid on an Austrian Airlines aircraft the previous day. In addition to the arrest of the first four suspects questioned the Albanian police 40 other people to determine the reasons for the coup at the “Mother Teresa” – Airport.

And now politics is reacting too: it has summoned troops and military police to secure the airport. It would “no longer tolerate that the security of the citizens and the image of the country suffer,” said Defense Minister Olta Xhacka.

A guilty party was quickly found for the government: the Chinese operator of the airport. Together with Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj, Xhacka accused the Hong Kong-based financial services provider China Everbright Limited (CEL) of “constant irresponsibility”. It was the second time in three years that the airport was the target of a robbery: at the Mother Teresa airport, several shipments of money were raided from December 2016 to February 2017 by armed gangs. CEL rejected the charge of negligence.

At the airport in Rinas, just outside the capital Tirana, film-mature scenes had taken place on Tuesday afternoon. Several disguised gunmen had advanced to the tarmac where the Airbus A320 with flight number OS848 was loaded before take-off. Most attackers wore Kalashnikov assault rifles and combat suits.

They knew that the plane was carrying precious cargo: a large sum of cash to be brought to Vienna. The robbers had spent according to Albanian police as a tax inspector to get so close to the AUA machine.

After the robbery, the robbers tried to escape with their prey. There was a shoot out with the police. One of the perpetrators died. Officials of the Albanian special forces FNSH and Renea searched the area for the robbers. They also used a helicopter in their operation.

During the attack, the aircraft of Austrian Airlines had already made the boarding. AUA spokeswoman Tanja Gruber emphasizes that neither the passengers nor the crew was at risk. According to Albanian media to be robbed in the coup up to ten million euros. Only two million euros had been mentioned. The cash would have flown in the AUA machine to Vienna and then to be delivered to various banks.

One of the victims of the robbery is Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI), which has a subsidiary in Albania. About the exact amount of stolen money, the financial institution did not provide any information. “The regrettable incident is not our responsibility and is ultimately an insured event,” it says.

But why do banks actually send large amounts of cash by plane through Europe? According to RBI and domestic banking supervision, this is nothing unusual. Banknote trading is often used when physical money is collected in one place and used elsewhere. And with many Albanians working in the EU and switching their money at home to the local currency, Lek, over time they are accumulating large sums of money to be transported back to the eurozone.

Similar transports exist, for example, from Austria to Denmark, if in this country too many Danish Krones accumulate, it is said. In addition, euro amounts are also regularly transported across Europe. Austria is often the starting point because the national central bank is taking over the printing of banknotes for various other eurozone countries.