Chapter 9 – Does Crime Pay?

Sometimes when we reflect and take a closer look at life’s lessons and as to what is occurring around us, we discover many contradictions. Have we gotten wiser and in doing so, are we getting more dejected and frayed? What have they been teaching us as kids? Imagine what it was like when we first learned that Santa was not quite what we had expected. We soon discovered that many proverbs and idioms are actually only partially or even conditionally applicable. In hindsight, we have always been told to “look before you leap” yet more often than naught, instantaneous reflexes actually saved many of us. We did not ponder to spare a second thought but we just leapt. That’s characteristically human reflex.

By Xavax

Crime doesn’t pay as the long arm of the law will soon catch up with you – or so as we have been constantly reminded. This has been and would be whole-heartedly professed even sworn and propagated by many folks, as it has been all through the ages.

Perhaps it was all propaganda all along much like the Bogeyman will come and get all the naughty children. But is that actually the case in that crime doesn’t pay? Look a little closer and count the number of robberies, frauds, murders and rapes that have remained unsolved. Is there ever a 100% or even a 75% crime-solving record that could be proudly claimed by any competent policing authority? Or for that matter, even a 50% solving of serious and petty crimes?

By the way, what ever happened to the record-breaking and sensational robbery of a bank’s safe deposit boxes housed in a state-of-the-art vault in Nice, France way back in 1976? It was the robbery at Societe Generale in Nice. Prior to that and back in 1971, there was the Baker St. robbery of a Lloyd Bank’s branch. The crooks simply tunnelled their way in. The banks’ seemingly impenetrable vaults housing hundreds of safe-deposit boxes were breached.

The famous Baker St robbery of Lloyds Bank occurred (strangely) on September 11, 1971. The robbers had rented a shop barely 2 doors away and tunnelled some 50ft to get to the bank vault. As a matter of fact a ham radio operator had overheard the crooks conversing over the radio and alerted the police who checked 750 banks over a 10-mile radius and even passed the particular Lloyd’s Bank branch not realizing that the robbers were inside. They prised open 260 safe deposit boxes and got away with an estimated £1.5m cash and valuables. However, it is widely believed that the losses have been twice as much. They even left a message reading “let’s see how Sherlock Holmes solves this one”. Some reports claim that the identities of the robbers were unknown but four men were convicted. The mastermind was believed to have been a London car dealer who was never apprehended.

In the 1976 Societe Generle’s case in Nice however, the robbers accessed the vault by digging a tunnel from a sewer system nearby. It took them 2 months and the robbery was carried out during a Bastille Day celebration and it was a long holiday weekend. All in all, 400 safety deposit boxes were breached with over 60 million Francs (as claimed) of cash, securities and valuables stolen. They even had the pluck to leave a note behind reading “sans armes, ni maine, ni violence” or “without weapons, nor hatred, nor violence”. The vault had no interior alarm since they were pretty sure it was impenetrable.

A French career criminal known as Albert Spaggiari, and believed to have been the mastermind was arrested after police hauled in one suspect when a former girlfriend spilled the beans. During trial, Spaggiari managed to escape by jumping out of a window and onto an awaiting motorcycle and made his getaway. He was never caught and the loot never found but he died aged 52 of cancer. His body unceremoniously dumped outside his mother’s house by persons unknown.

Albert Spaggiari – Photo from Alchetron

Though only 60 million Francs was the official loss, conservative estimates put the losses at virtually hundreds of millions of dollars. That quantum of loss is believable as after all, Nice is a playground for the rich and famous as well as a salvation for many dictators who fled their countries of origin. Moreover, it’s located right next door to the tax haven principality of Monaco. All these happen to be too conveniently associated with safe-deposit boxes and undeclared wealth. So one can’t help but to fathom what riches actually exist in such a locality. Nobody knows and will ever know how much wealth was actually dispossessed from those “rich & famous”; dictators and usurpers as well tax-evaders.

These sensational robberies spawned other copycats too where in fact, almost the same modus operandi was deployed in one such robbery in Malaysia in the 1990s. As with the French case, the robbers spent an entire weekend taking their own sweet time prying open hundreds of safe-deposit boxes and systematically helped themselves to the riches as if they had stumbled upon King Solomon’s mines. In Societe Generale’s case, they even had the audacity to coolly bring along provisions to wine and dined within the safety of the enclosure. To add insult to injury, they even contemptuously defecated at corners before absconding. Their insidious pecuniary transgressions were only discovered when the bank opened for business after the holidays.

In such a scenario, it’s definitively impossible to accurately verify or quantify actual losses. Expectedly, a number of these boxes would have contained undeclared wealth or as some might call, black money, while on the other hand, other more honest depositors may likely cash in on the occasion and exaggerate on their losses and boldly demand disproportionate compensation.

In contrast, the affected bank would precariously be at a very compromising position when entertaining and processing claims since it is wholly impossible to know what exactly each box actually contained unless inventory records of contents are properly maintained. Many a time, this might not be practiced especially should clients prefer to opt for secrecy. So in actuality, the brazen crooks got away with virtually hundreds of millions of dollars and are expected to have retired to a life of wealth, recreation and relaxation – or simply put, “wine, women and song” and likely to be living it up in some paradise somewhere.

In certain countries, petty crimes offenders are punished with harsher sentences when they commit repeated offences. In practice, petty criminals could be jailed for a number of years for humble crimes such as shoplifting groceries. A middle-age woman was arrested some time ago for shoplifting milk powder to feed her baby. Ironically and at the same time, perpetrators of commercial crimes and financial fraudsters, who cunningly misappropriate, embezzle and steal millions, even billions, of dollars may also get the same jail term upon conviction. This is best interpreted as a vicious mockery to the scales of justice as there’s hardly any difference to sentences being meted out even though the resultant financial loses may be massively disproportional. What is $30 compared to $1 Billion?

Under the complexities of investment portfolios, foundations and dummy corporations, most of the stolen funds may never be recovered. The obvious and cynical thing here is the gravity of the crime is not appropriately taken into consideration and punished. Is the message supposed to be “if you do crime, go big”? The petty criminal when released from prison would return to a deprived and destitute life, while the fraudster upon having served his term, would be living it up for the rest of his life. Even while in jail, his ill-gotten wealth could still buy him unimaginable perks. Congruently, jail time could only resemble an interlude in confinement but nevertheless one of some comfort.

Photo: Augustas Didzqalvis

Crime is risky business. Sometimes you would pay for it with your life. Getting literally shot at should merely be a basic expectation; while it isn’t necessarily a profitable business. Respectively, it can also be a shortcut to riches and perpetual early-retirement. It is nonetheless an insidious means to an end.  More often than not, it serves as an easily identifiable avenue out of somebody’s sheer desperation and destitution.

Financial woes of some kind or another afflict everyone and more so the common wage-earner. Heinous crimes such as murders are committed either spontaneously or premeditatedly; rapes and assaults too but of course there are also random or opportunistic committals. However, robberies and other forms of commercial crimes are mostly committed because of the perpetrators’ distorted avarice for money. Distortion has ballooned. Yes, everybody loves money but robbers are the ones who are more than willing to forcibly and even violently extract and dispossess others. Sometimes, there can be a preponderance of twisted logic too. This can be said, owes greatly to dysfunctional motivation.

Look at the saga with the infamous serial killer named Charles Sobhraj. Nicknamed the “Bikini Killer”, he drugged and murdered numerous backpackers during the “Overland Across Asia” travel craze of the 1970s. His motive was primarily to rob them. A French national born in 1944 and of Indian-Vietnamese parentage, he, according to the New York Times, killed 12-24 people between 1972 and 1976. Sobhraj was later to earn the moniker “The Serpent” because albeit incarcerated, he still managed to escape on several occasions. Wanted in numerous countries and would face the gallows if ever convicted in Thailand, he was convicted in India and was sentenced to seven years jail. The Thai government who wanted to try him for murder had to wait for his release and extradition.

A file photograph of Charles Sobhraj from 1995.
Photo by Dinesh Krishnan

In 1986, Sobhraj escaped from Tibar Prison in New Delhi. His escape had more cunning motives. He was soon due to be released but he planned and executed an escape because his recapture, and he was recaptured a month later, would surely earn him additional jail time; and by which time, the statute of limitations for the crimes in which he was accused of, would have expired in Thailand. He was released in 1997 and returned to France but only to enjoy some form of mordant celebrity status.

What’s vexatious is that the jewel thief, conman, drug dealer and murderer, was slotted to be talking about a $ 15 million movie deal. Media would cough up more than $5,000 with him just for a breakfast chat. This is a classic case of sardonic justice darkly tinged with diabolism! It’s an unsavoury testament that the world is getting crazy and this is but a disparaging sign of rapid civil and social decay.

However, his folly was to have travelled to Nepal. Apparently, he might have audaciously forgotten about outstanding arrest warrants or that the lure of the Himalayas was just too seductive and enticing just to bask in its serenity. Or, he may have gravely miscalculated as there were outstanding arrest warrants for him in Nepal and he was apprehended and jailed in 2003. By 2004 he tried to escape from prison in Nepal but unfortunately for him his attempt was abortive. So how is he keeping these days?

Biggs was another infamous “crime does pay” icon. Ronnie Biggs was named the “Great Train Robber” and was one of the most notorious and celebrated British criminals of the 20th century. Despite his infamous crime, he was the subject of books, films and TV shows. He even recorded a single with the Sex Pistols. Biggs and 14 others robbed the Glasgow-London mail train in 1963 and made off with £ 2.5 million in used bank notes. That would equal tens of millions today.

Ronald Arthur Biggs-Police mugshot

Biggs and most of the gang were apprehended in a massive manhunt. Police had discovered their fingerprints at a farmhouse hideout where they had holed up to split the cash. Sentenced to 30 years jail he escaped over a London prison wall after having served just 15 months. Thereon, he spent most of his life very much as a celebrity fugitive.

He initially underwent extensive plastic surgery in Paris and made his way to Australia with his wife and two children. After being tracked down, he fled to Brazil in 1969. In 1974, he was traced again to Rio de Janeiro but efforts to extradite him were futile because he had by then fathered a Brazilian son named Michael. He lived openly in Rio entertaining tourists and selling merchandise and surprisingly managed to record a single with the Sex Pistols in 1978 called “No One Is Innocent”. What happened soon was that in 1981 he became a subject of extraordinary rendition by British ex-soldiers and moved to Barbados but their efforts to legally bring him back to the UK was not successful and he was allowed to return to Brazil.

Towards the end of the 1990s, Biggs was going broke and with his health rapidly declining, he decided to return to the UK and faced the consequences of his actions over 3 decades ago. He returned to Britain in style via a private jet arranged by the Sun newspaper. He was jailed in a high-security prison but later moved to a more congenial facility. He was released on parole in 2009 based on poor health but according to the Justice Secretary then “he had shown no remorse for his crimes or respect for the punishment given to him”.

Biggs’s 70th birthday, 1999 (from left): Biggs, his son Michael, Nick Reynolds, and Nick’s father Bruce, the robbery mastermind

According to CNN, Michael Biggs related that his father had expressed regret but not for “living the life he had”. Biggs’ death at 84 in December 2013 coincided with the release of a two-part BBC series in the United Kingdom about the 1963 great train robbery.

Smart and successful crooks have a good opportunity to get away scot-free. Firstly, they can bribe law enforcers, prosecutors, politicians and even acquire false witnesses. They can bribe rogue judges too and through their ill-gotten gains can hire the best lawyers to tap into every avenue of legal loopholes and relegate their cases spiralling into legal limbo. Alternatively, they can acquire or solicit professional help to intimidate and eliminate.

Worse come to worse, they can buy a new and fictitious identity; live a new life immersed in supreme comfort in another part of the world – beyond what most of us dared to even dream. The challenge will always be how smart one is at getting away; or whether the crime itself is worth it or enticing enough for one to risk imprisonment and even death. Be it a crime of passion or a fleeting moment of overwhelming spontaneity; or something that involves money and how much money, those could always be attributable criteria – no better than a desperate gambler putting everything he owns on the line just to try to beat the house.

Synonymously, it’s just like an explorer who mounts life-threatening and precarious terrain all for the sake of conquest. When asked why he did so, the answer might surprisingly be: “just because it’s there”. It’s all opportunistic and all too often, it’s the situation or opportunity presenting itself that pits the potential perpetrator to be tempted to deliberate on whether “to do” or “not to do”.

Security guards who convey millions of dollars in cash are indeed in regular physical contact with loads of “other peoples’ money” They are constantly reminded that a permanent solution to anybody’s financial woes lie practically within their instant grasp. “It’s right here in our hands” they might think. Money is the commodity that they need most in life as after all, aren’t they slogging for wages too? So as a result, it’s fairly common to read in the news of security guards absconding with sacks of cash.

Security guards transporting cash. Photo by Vmenkov

Typically, it’s like a bank’s cashier working responsibly and who’s paid a mere pittance in comparison to the amount of money he or she handles every day. That’s more money than he or she could ever possibly make in a lifetime. One seductive day, he just succumbs to recurring temptation and absconds with the loot. Could it be just a case of momentary weakness that besieged him?

In a South-Eastern country, it was revealed that over $100 million is stolen in a year by bank staff and predominantly by women. Primetime financial buffs are also prone to such enticements. One thinks of how to beat the system, how to circumvent legislatures and how to undermine by taking advantage of weaknesses, flaws and loopholes in the system. Putting their ingenuity to work, they think of strategies of how to execute their mendacity. Madoff for example, made off with tens of billions of dollars but the long arm of the law did catch up with him eventually.

Are criminals natural-born or are they a product of social evolution or societal freakiness? It appears that a disproportionate equation of all there exists. Some have natural crooked tendencies while some graduate through the “School of Life”. So if petty criminals are incarcerated together with hard-core ones and where contact between them is unavoidable, then it is expected that petty criminals would be exposed to greater awareness of crime and criminality – as well as the loot associated with it. They may rationalize with notions or awakenings of “why work for less”. This might be their first lesson from this “School of Correction” too. To them, they might rationalize that after all, crime can be aberrantly exciting so why not give it a good go?

Politicians are the ones who create laws. Could some of the more dubious ones at the same time create and pass laws to decriminalize their shady activities? Most surely they can and most surely do. Crime is only a matter of interpretation and again, interpretation from what basis or paradigm? Isn’t’ it from statutes and legislatures that they themselves enacted which try to serve as the Rubicon?

Likewise, what’s a crime in one country may not be so in another. Often, politicians can also get away scot-free even after their crimes, transgressions and malfeasances have been exposed. Though ironical and peculiar, this may be due to a compromise by those assuming power so as not to open “a can of worms” – in case a domino effect comes about. That would certainly lead to graver and wider implications. Often, non-action may also act to serve as the final cast-off and serve as remuneration for services rendered.

Marijuana is legal in a number of places Photo: Cannabis Training University

What about certain of those who figuratively rob you of your life and your natural character with nothing but mere promises of spiritual wealth. Salvation for them might actually mean to salvage you. But the more notorious of them have been exposed and disgraced. Still, many more lurk around to fang the unwary.

Aren’t they criminals too who inventively operate and thrive along the white lines of divine pretexts? They tell you tales and emotionally blackmail you and while you are dazed and confused they engulf you into their corrupt system. But is there ever money involved, since after all, neither they can survive exclusively on fresh air and sunshine? Incidentally too, it may not be a coincidence of nuances that theirs is a tax-free realm.

Somehow defiantly, there is a twisted sense of logic and adulation when people view perpetrators of financial crimes as “heroes” of some sort. This perverted sense of peculiarity surfaces in instances such as when a crook successfully rips-off a bank or major financial institution. Why one may ponder? It may very well be that because these crooks are viewed as heroes for having ingenuously beaten a presumably secured or impenetrable system and plundered a victim who happens to be swimming in loads of cash. Moreover, certain people already harbour sheer contempt and revulsion toward financial institutions.

Therefore not until every crime is appropriately defined and every case brought to book, can anybody actually go around and profess that “crime doesn’t pay”.  The Great Train Robber really had a long holiday in a dream place blessed with a landscape of G-Strings and curvaceous butts of a million contours. How’s that for a break while being young and flushed with cool dirty cash? More so, when the cash runs out and one could still run back to those steely hands hunting them all along, for salvation.

As for those who are innocent but convicted of crime and languishing in jails across the world, there are many – possibly hundreds if not thousands. When an innocent person is convicted it only means that the real perpetrators are still out there and which essentially means those crimes they were convicted for remain unsolved.

So, can crime pay?


Author: J. Sam Barr

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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