Pacific atoll shocked by first ever bank robbery

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The Independent Online

Locals are in shock after news of the first bank robbery on the idyllic coral atoll of Aitutaki in the South Pacific.

Police are refusing to say how much money was taken from the tiny branch of the Bank of the Cook Islands, except that it was a substantial sum. They have also refused to confirm reports that the bank was secured by only a single padlock.

The island's Mayor, John Baxter, described the robbery as "a very sad occasion" for Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands. He told Radio New Zealand: "I think it is the first time that any of the banks has actually ever been robbed on this small island... [where] everybody knows everybody."

Mr Baxter said he suspected that an outsider was responsible for the robbery, which is believed to have been carried out one night last week. According to some reports, $164,000 (£99,000) was taken. Many islanders kept their savings at the bank.

The Cook Islands – a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand – is a popular tourist destination, with Aitutaki the most visited spot after Raratonga, the main island.

Visitors wax lyrical about its pristine beaches, turquoise lagoon and laid-back locals.

Now Aitutaki's image has been dented by the robbery and its three banks have been forced to step up security. Police are trying to ascertain whether the crime was carried out by one or more people and have appealed to the public for information. They believe the premises were thoroughly scouted beforehand.

Detective Inspector Areumu Ingaua told Radio New Zealand: "We believe that the person responsible may have had prior knowledge of the layout of the bank."

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