Barely two days after the bank heist was discovered at Kishoreganj's Sonali Bank branch, the RAB arrested two bank robbers on Tuesday in Dhaka.
Tk 161.9 million was recovered from them, stuffed in five sacks.
Tk 2.1 million is yet to be recovered. The robbers say they have spent that to buy a truck full of rice for the Pir of Atroshi – a claim that needs to be cross-checked.
The robbers had made off with Tk 164 million from the Sonali Bank vault at Kishoreganj at the weekend, after tunnelling their way into it from an abandoned room of a neighbouring house.
The heist was reported to the police on Sunday when the bank branch opened after weekly holidays.
RAB's spokesperson ATM Habibur Rahman told a press briefing at its headquarters on Tuesday that the force was trying to recover Tk 2.1 million still missing.
Earlier in the day, the elite force seized five sacks, full of currency notes, from the two robbers involved in the heist – ‘Sohel’ and ‘Idris’.
RAB says Sohel was the mastermind of the heist while Idris, who has worked with him for a while, was an accomplice.
RAB Additional Director General Ziaul Ahsan had told bdnews24.com after the arrests that the currency notes stuffed in the sacks would be counted in the force's headquarters.
After counting, the recovered booty was said to be Tk 161.9 million.
The RAB is trying to find out through questioning what happened to the rest of the amount robbed.
Ahsan said they followed 'definite leads' to track down the two men.
Officials at the bank, in Kishoreganj’s Rathkhola, had on Sunday noticed a 15-foot long tunnel, dug up during the weekend, that led to the vault from an abandoned room of a house next to the bank.
Later they found out that the robbers had run away with more than Tk 164 million in the daring heist.
A woman, along with two of her daughters, stays in the other room of that house. Her husband lives in Saudi Arabia.
During police interrogation, she said she was not aware of the heist or someone tunnelling through their premises.
RAB Spokesperson Habibur Rahman, however, said on Tuesday that Sohel had stayed in her house for around two years.
It was not clear whether the first lead to crack the case came from questioning her -- though it would seem that was the case.
Eight policemen who had been on duty at the Sonali Bank have been suspended for dereliction of duty.
Deputy General Manager of the Sonali Bank’s branch Sheikh Amanullah filed a case at Kishoreganj Model Police Station on Sunday night accusing unnamed persons of the heist.
RAB chief Moklesur Rahman told a media briefing on Sunday that his force started investigations into the case alongside the district police.
Sohel's location at Kadamtali was first tracked down and he was arrested --and then sacks full of currency notes were recovered from the fifth floor of the same building where Sohel had been nabbed from.
Later the sacks were opened in front of the media in RAB's headquarters and the money was counted up.
Planned for two years
Later Sohel told journalists that his wife's maternal uncle Siraj had influenced him to try the bank heist after he asked for Tk 500,000 that Siraj owed him.
"He told me how this can be done," said Sohel.
Siraj even managed a landlord near the bank to rent out his accommodation and provided detailed instruction -- and equipment-- on how to go about tunneling for the heist, Sohel claimed.
"We would dig for a week, keep the earth in our house and slowly removed it in buckets . The progress in tunneling was painstakingly slow and took us two years, but the greed kept us going," Sohel told journalists, almost reminding one of Paul Brickhill's World War 2 classic "Tunnel to Freedom".
Sohel said vehicles had to be hired twice to remove the earth dug out of the tunnel.
He said since digging would cause noise at night, they would dig the tunnel by day and drop away the earth by night.
On Friday, Sohel said he reached below the Sonali bank .
"As I tunneled up, I hit a steel almirah. I cut a way round it and reached the vault. Stacks of currency notes were lined up on the table.
“I never imagined so much money will be available so easily because one would expect to have to break the vault," Sohel said.
But the bank robber was in no hurry.
He came back through the tunnel, went for his prayers and had a hearty dinner.
Around 10pm, he returned to the bank branch through the tunnel with plastic sacks.
He loaded most of the currency notes in five heavy sacks, stitched them up and pulled them out.
But a small amount of money was carried away in a hand bag, he said.
Head for Dhaka
On Siraj's advice, Sohel bought 230 sacks of rice and tried to hire a truck to carry them to Atroshi on Saturday.
But with no truck willing to go to Atroshi, Sohel had to hire one for Dhaka.
He says that the driver's assistant got suspicious when he saw the sacks loaded with currency notes.
But he was bribed Tk 700,000 to keep quiet.
Siraj came up with banner "For Atroshi" which Sohel says he asked to stick up in front of the truck to avoid suspicion.
By Saturday evening, they reached Kadamtoli but the truck driver was willing to go no further.
So the sacks were unloaded and a covered van was hired to carry the rice to Atroshi while a house was rented for Tk 8000 to keep the sacks full of money.
That is the house where Sohel and Idris were nabbed by RAB. Kishorganj district police claim they were ten minutes late -- or else they and not the RAB would have netted the robbers.
"But it does not matter who caught the robbers so long they are caught," said DIG Nuruzzaman.