Interior minister girds banks into (finally) tackling ATM explosions

It took a bone-jangling blast shortly after five in the morning to goad interior minister Eduardo Cabrita into (finally) taking decisive action over the recurring number of ATM explosions that have been rocking neighbourhoods “day in, day out” for almost the entirety of 2017.

According to reports, the number of Multibanco machine heists this year has gone into overdrive – often three a week, sometimes more.

Cabrita and his wife, Portugal’s Minister of the Sea, were catapulted from ministerial slumbers just before dawn on December 6 when thieves targeted their building in Lisbon, almost right under the noses of their PSP security detail.

A “few minutes after 5am” and residents in the building were blasted awake as the thieves blew a perfect hole in one of the walls, disappearing with the Multibanco machine intact.

The security guard has since faced a disciplinary hearing due to the fact that he was not “on the spot” (as his superiors say he should have been. His argument has been that he was ‘at the back’ doing his rounds) but Cabrita has taken the matter in hand.

Meeting with the various banks this week, he has insisted that they get to grips with this scourge and make it impossible to ‘get rich quick’ with a few canisters of gas, a fast car, steely determination and possibly a good set of industrial ear muffs.

The issue here is cost. Despite the fact that this year’s heists alone have netted in the region of two million euros, banks have been loathe to shell out on new technology to protect their most vulnerable machines.

Warnings taped to some that “notes will be turned instantly red in the case of unauthorised tampering” have, in many cases been spurious.

Says tabloid Correio da Manhã, there are at least 2000 machines that are still far too easy to attack, with no mechanisms whatsoever to render their banknotes unusable if the casing is plundered.

What Cabrita wants now is a “calendar of implementation”: a deadline for each bank to have sorted vulnerabilities so that everyday citizens can turn in at night knowing the likelihood of an almighty blast just before dawn is much-reduced.

The government isn’t taking this effort lightly: Cabrita’s dispatch threatens €30,000 in fines for banks that don’t sort the problem out over the course of 2018.

Says Lusa, they all have 90 days to install note-dyeing mechanisms, and then must replace the oldest most targeted machines by the end of next year.

Other demands involve setting a limit to the amount of cash loaded into any one machine, and a block on all nighttime deliveries.

As many stories over the year have explained, thieves tend to wait at night for the machines to be filled for the following day before getting busy with their gas canisters and blowing terrible holes in buildings.

Lusa adds that Cabrita wants a follow-up meeting with the banks in the middle of January, “to check on their progress”.

Official figures point to over 175 multibanco explosions between January 1 this year and the end of November, and losses of “around two million euros”.

On top of all the financial damages, the damages to property, people’s sense of security and well-being, these incidents can prompt tragic consequences. In November, for example, police in pursuit of Multibanco thieves mistook a vehicle for the one they were chasing and after ordering it to stop, opened fire. An innocent woman travelling to work at Lisbon airport was shot in the neck and died of her injuries (click here).

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