The €1m question: who’s got all the stolen money?

Belgian police go door-to-door as fleeing burglars dump their loot

Brussels

It’s a mystery that would tax even Hercule Poirot: how to track down half a million euros in stolen cash when there are at least 22,000 suspects.

That is the challenge facing police in the small Belgian town of Zedelgem, where residents are in the grip of a classic moral conundrum. If you find a stash of money on the street, do you quietly pocket it – or do you take it to the police so they can return it to the owners?

The saga began on a Saturday evening in late April when a car raced through the quiet streets with a police motorcycle in pursuit. Desperate to lose their tail, the thieves flung their bounty – a safe stolen from a home in the next town – into the path of the motorcycle and made their getaway.

As it hit the road, the safe cracked open, spewing out €1m in €50, €100 and €200 notes. Residents rushed into the road, plucking the money from the air and gathering it up.

About €450,000 was recovered on the day, some of it snatched back from the hands of residents as police arrived to restore order. Now, authorities are after the rest. At the moment, they are appealing to people’s better nature. If that fails, there’s always jail.

Zedelgem’s mayor, Patrick Arnou, initially issued an appeal, saying anyone could hand the money in to authorities or the church with no questions asked. “I think a lot of people initially would pick up the money and try to keep it hidden, I can understand that,” he said. “But you also need to rethink: imagine if it was your savings that were stolen.”

Mr Arnou even set up a letterbox outside the city hall for people to anonymously return the cash. That plan backfired when thieves read about it and set about the box with a crowbar.

Some residents have decided to do the right thing and about €62,000 has been handed in to police. But two weeks on, €500,000 remains unaccounted for. The authorities are now playing neighbour against neighbour, encouraging anyone with video footage of the free-for-all to hand it in.

Residents say it has created a witch-hunt in Zedelgem, a town of 22,320 just outside the medieval city of Bruges. “If it were a €20 note, I’d pick it up, too,” Hector Clarysse, 77, told the Associated Press news agency. “[But] if you pick up so much money, you know it’s not normal.” “People talk about nothing else any more,” Mayor Arnou said. “In the street there is an atmosphere of bitterness.”

It is not just residents of Zedelgem under suspicion. People driving through the area at the time were said to have joined in. One person  reportedly  picked up more than €16,000 and drove 60 miles to Antwerp. But their conscience eventually got the better of them and they returned the money.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD : Randstad Education So...

Credit Controller (Sales Ledger, SAGE)- London, Old Street

£12 per hour: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street A well es...

Y4 Teacher - Leicester

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: We are currently recruiting ...

VMware Infrastructure Engineer - (VCP, VMware) - £45k, London

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Infrastructure Engineer, VMware (VCP, NetApp,...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor