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
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam