Through the front door by Quentin Bates

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It happened at last. A couple of guys walked in to a bank in Iceland and did an old-fashioned stick up, just like in the black-and-white movies.

Nobody was hurt at the branch of Landsbanki on Borgartún, apart from being shocked and shaken. The robbers made a hurried getaway in a stolen van with a bag of money, but not a great deal, and virtual Iceland took over. Social media is a wonderful way of keeping tabs on what happens in Iceland, depending on who your virtual friends are. Many of the comments expressed amazement, not so much that a couple of guys had carried out a bank heist, but that they had gone the old-fashioned route through the front door, rather than what’s seen in Iceland as the more conventional method of bank robbery; via the boardroom, the stock market and respective lawyers.

In fact, it’s practically unheard of. There is the occasional robbery in Iceland, sometimes even an armed robbery, but they rarely get far. Part of the problem is disposing of the ill-gotten gains. If you get away with a sack of used 5000 króna notes, it’s not as if you can spend them easily. Fair enough, the underworld will take a sizeable portion of used notes in exchange for the drug of your choice, but it’s not as if you can pay off your mortgage with the cash, or even buy a new car.

In such a tiny society, someone’s going to notice and there’ll be a knock on the door before long, probably from the taxman wanting to know how your lifestyle is financed, and here’s a bill for what we reckon you ought to be paying, thank you so much…

In Britain, Germany or France you could probably have a lot of fun with that cash before the law does catch up, assuming you’re careful. But in Iceland that’s not so easy. Someone’s going to notice and ask questions, and you can’t leave the country with the cash either. Iceland still has currency controls, and if you try and turn a few million krónur into some other currency anywhere in Europe, alarm bells are going to ring very soon. So the only real option is to stash it in a biscuit tin under your bed and spend it very slowly. By the time you’ve got through it, inflation will have taken a massive bit out of it and what would have bought you a car today might by then get you a coffee and a newspaper.

The robbers didn’t get very far. It’s hardly surprising as they weren’t the most professional thieves in the world. The stolen van was an opportunistic theft. The owner had left it running while he ran a quick errand and when he came back, it was gone.

The bank raiders managed to carry out their crime so clumsily that they left fingerprints at the scene and fairly clear pictures of their faces were captured on CCTV. In fact, the news reports were accompanied by images that were presumably recognisable to anyone who had even a passing acquaintance with either of them. By that evening the police had picked one of them up and the other turned himself in, while the cash, the knife and the toy pistol they had brandished at the bank staff were all recovered.

Full marks for bravado, minus several hundred for… well, everything; abysmal planning, lack of a decent getaway strategy, forgetting to buy gloves, the list goes on. The bandana over the face may have worked for Billy the Kid, but there was no CCTV and social media in Dodge City, so even a cheap balaclava would have been a better bet. In fact, just thinking for more than a couple of seconds that they might get away with it was a colossal miscalculation right from the start.

But they have provided a few laughs and given Iceland’s near-universal social media something to talk about for a few hours, in the process demonstrating once again just how disgruntled with Iceland’s banks the general public is. The broad feeling was that the two robbers tried to do just what the banks do to their own customers every day. It’s expensive to have a bank look after your hard-earned shekels in Iceland, which is unfortunate because in an almost totally online society, there’s so much you just can’t do except though a bank account.

So the lesson is, if you want to rob an Icelandic bank, do the decent thing and do it from the inside. If the idea of doing it through the front door crosses your mind for even a fraction of second, go and lie down until you feel better.

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