Brazilian police near the border with Paraguay have exchanged gunfire with members of a gang who carried out what Paraguayan officials are calling the robbery of the century. So far three gang members were killed and two injured in the clash, police say. The number of robbers involved and display of weapons has led authorities to believe it is a one of Brazil largest criminal gangs.
Earlier on Monday about 60 men moved into the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este, blew up with explosives the front of a private security firm, and fired on police. Unconfirmed reports suggest they could have stolen up to US$40m.
After the robbery, the gang created a diversion by burning cars and attacking the local police station, and escaped after a two-hour shootout that left one police officer dead at the scene after the company's vaults were blown up.
Police believe they fled in several of the security company's armored trucks and then may have transferred their booty to waiting boats at the Parana river. They were believed to have travelled 50km downriver to a region called Itaipulandia in Brazil, were they were intercepted by Brazilian police.
Brazilian federal police came across 12 men who exchanged fire and then escaped, Brazilian Globo website reported. The men left guns, ammunition, flak jackets and explosives in the car they abandoned, police said. A large security operation is under way to try to recapture the gang on both sides of the border.
The violent robbery started around midnight and ended after 3 a.m., neighbors said. It has left the city in a state of panic, especially because some of the robbers, unable go flee remained in the city opening fire indiscriminately.
Schools in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second largest city, located in the Triple Border with Brazil and Argentina, were closed on Monday.
Numerous witnesses said they heard the heavily armed men speaking in Portuguese, leading to speculation that they could be members of the First Command of the Capital (PCC), one of the largest criminal groups in Brazil. Weapons used included AK 47s, C4 explosives, infrared weapons, snipers and even anti-aircraft guns and a helicopter.
The Prosegur headquarters in Ciudad del Este had entered the authorities’ radar in 2015 they found a tunnel running under the building. They found an L-shaped tunnel that ran under Prosegur and connected to a house. Two years later, they managed to rob it, said Richard Vera, Paraná's homicide chief.