Lifted

The robbers had a helicopter, explosives, and inside information on a $150 million cash repository. But the police were on to them—sort of.

Inside one of history's most elaborate heists, and the race to unravel it.

THE ATAVISTJANUARY 2011

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One

On the bright afternoon of September 2, 2009, two men sat on a bench in Stockholm. One was medium height with a reddish-blond beard and sunglasses. He wore a gray suit with an open-collar shirt. The other, a squat man with dark hair and an olive complexion, had on a green military-style jacket. The bench was one of a half dozen along a marina on the north end of Skeppsholmen, a small island situated where the fresh waters coursing around the city begin to mingle with the Baltic Sea.

Connected by a single bridge to Stockholm’s mainland, Skeppsholmen offers a picturesque spot to conduct sensitive business. It’s home to Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art, which draws just enough tourists that a group of conspirators can remain unremarkable and undisturbed. Across the water to the southeast, the two men could just make out the upraised arms of passengers careening down a roller coaster.

A third man arrived, parked his car behind the museum, and walked toward the boats. He was at least six foot three—associates referred to him as the Tall One and wore, as he often did, white slacks and a long-sleeve shirt. He was meticulously groomed and carried himself with the confidence of a well-connected businessman. At the waterfront, he paused and glanced at the scattered afternoon visitors. Then he strode over to the bench and sat down between the two men.

Annika Persson, an undercover officer with the Stockholm police, had followed the tall man down from his car and then strolled along the docks, 25 feet away. She was posing as a local resident out for an afternoon walk, and she’d brought along her small black Schnauzer as a prop. The three men seemed deep in conversation. If they noticed her, they didn’t show it.

Of the trio, the Tall One was the only man Persson could positively identify. His name was Goran Bojovic, and he was a 38-year-old first-generation Swede whose parents had emigrated from Montenegro. He owned a construction firm that was based in Estonia and lived in a quiet part of the city, above a combined café and furniture store owned by his parents. His criminal record consisted of a few traffic tickets. Still, the organized-crime detail at the National Criminal Investigations Department, known by its Swedish initials RKP, had long suspected him of being more than just a businessman.

Recently, those suspicions had turned more urgent, and the RKP had bugged his car and phone. On August 27, the Serbian foreign ministry, through diplomatic channels, alerted Swedish authorities that Bojovic had made contact with a man whose name would prick up the ears of any RKP officer: Milan Sevo, a former Stockholm Mafia figure who’d relocated to Belgrade, where the Serbian police monitored his calls. Serbian authorities had overheard Bojovic enlisting Sevo’s logistical help for what they gleaned was a major robbery to be carried out in Stockholm. The Serbs knew neither the time nor the location of the planned crime, but they did pass along two significant facts: The heist would take place at a large cash repository, and it would involve a helicopter. The Swedish police had placed Bojovic under surveillance in late August.

Persson tugged the dog in the direction of Bojovic and his companions. The men kept their voices low, and she couldn’t make out their conversation. But she did manage to sneak a closer look at their faces. She recognized the man with the “South European complexion,” as she would later describe him, as an acquaintance of Bojovic’s. The man with the beard, however, was unfamiliar.

After five minutes, the three men stood up and shook hands. Bojovic and the man in the military jacket left in Bojovic’s car. The bearded man passed within a few feet of Persson on his way to the parking lot. He climbed into a Peugeot and departed alone.

Persson walked to her own car and started to follow him. Just off the island bridge, worried that her pursuit might be too obvious, she radioed a surveillance vehicle waiting nearby. Her partner tailed the Peugeot across town to a commercial district on the eastern end of Stockholm, where the bearded man walked into an office building. That was as far as the police went with the lead. The Tall One had met with dozens of people during the weeks they’d been tailing him, and the gregarious businessman’s network seemed to include hundreds of people. As one investigator complained about Bojovic, “He has 500 contacts in his phone; if he walks down the street, he’s stopped every five meters to talk.” The police didn’t have the resources to chase after every person with whom Bojovic shared a bench.

The officer added the Peugeot’s license plate to the surveillance report. He noted that the owner lived in Ljusterö, a wealthy coastal area to the north of Stockholm.


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