DUBLIN, Ireland -- Detectives charged a man Thursday with laundering money from the 2004 robbery of a Northern Ireland bank, a record-setting theft that authorities blamed on the outlawed IRA.
The unidentified man, to be arraignment later Thursday in Cork, southwest Ireland, is the first person to be charged with laundering some of the 26.5 million pounds stolen from Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004.
Police said the suspect had been under investigation for the past three years following a string of raids in February 2005 on suspected money-launderers throughout the Republic of Ireland. Those raids netted more than $4.5 million in largely British currency that was thought to have come from the Belfast robbery _ but no one had been charged until now, as detectives spent years trying to document the underground money trail.
Police said a second man suspected of Northern Bank money-laundering was charged Thursday with possessing ammunition and would appear separately at Cork District Court. Neither man was publicly identified pending arraignment, which is official practice in Ireland.
The 2005 raids centered on a Cork man who ran an unregulated banking business _ and who was found to have a large amount of cash, much of it in British pounds, hidden in garbage cans and a tank for home heating oil in his back yard. In another Cork location, a man was spotted frantically burning British pound notes in the fireplace of his home _ and sending embers of cash floating throughout the neighborhood.
At the time, the Northern Bank raid was the largest cash robbery in world history, but it was overtaken by 2005 and 2006 bank robberies in Brazil and Britain, respectively.
Northern Ireland police blamed the Irish Republican Army for organizing the robbery, which involved at least two gangs taking families of two key bank supervisors hostage at the bank's central cash vault. The IRA, which frequently robbed banks from the 1970s onward, denied involvement.
The two bank employees, who had security clearance to enter the vault, helped their abductors escape with two truckloads of cash after closing time. Both told police they feared their families would be executed if they did not comply.
One of the employees, Chris Ward, later was charged with involvement in the robbery, but he insists the hostage-taking at his family home in west Belfast _ the primary power base of the IRA _ was genuine. He has waited nearly three years for his trial to start.
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