'Whisky robber' wanted by police and PR people becomes a Hungarian folk hero

IT'S THE story that is the stuff of Hollywood, but it was played out on the back streets of Budapest.

The star is a Transylvanian-born ice-hockey player turned bank robber who slugged back a shot of whisky before each of his 27 heists, and who, when finally arrested, escaped from a high-security prison by tying a string of bedsheets.

Attila Ambrus, dubbed the "whisky robber", is Hungary's latest folk hero, admired across the generations for his daring criminal exploits. Celebrated on commemorative T-shirts and badges, and the talk of the country's bars and cafes, Ambrus, who reportedly once even disguised himself as a policeman while robbing a bank, now has his own fan club on the Internet, offering a "whisky robber" screensaver.

Police checkpoints now ring Budapest at night as cars are stopped and searched, and a nationwide manhunt has been launched to try and find Ambrus, 32, although most Hungarians believe he has fled abroad. Few expect that there will be any takers for the reward of one million forints (pounds 2,600) for anyone helping to catch him.

Ambrus, who frequently gave flowers to female cashiers at the banks he robbed, was caught only after he went home to fetch his dog before attempting to flee Hungary.

In a country known both for its love of dogs, and where chivalrous traditions of flowergiving still thrive - as the Hungarian saying goes "no one who likes flowers can be a bad man" - Ambrus is seen as the archetypal thief with a heart of gold.

His lawyer, Gyorgy Magyar, has announced that an American public relations and communications company has offered a large sum to make a film about Ambrus, and his client has been inundated with offers from newspapers and publishers to buy up his life story. Any monies made could be used to compensate banks for their losses.

This week Magyar announced that Ambrus would be the centre of an advertising campaign for a new energy drink. Manufacturers have bought the right to use his client's face for six months. T-shirts, badges and souvenirs are already in production. The drink will be produced by a West European company with a Hungarian partner.

Peter Nagy, general secretary of the Hungarian Advertising Association, told the Hungarian press that while it is unethical for a criminal to appear in advertisements, there is no law against it.

Police officers are dismayed about the widespread support for the whisky robber. "I thought that society was against crime and more co- operative with the police. Ambrus had more possibilities than the average citizen. He could have chosen legal ways," said Geza Jakab, deputy chief of Budapest police.

That the whisky robber's exploits have struck such a chord in the national psyche illuminates the popular resentment among Hungarians against officialdom.

"There is tangible negative resentment in the Hungarian psyche towards the state, most or all state officers and those in power," said Gyorgy Csepeli, a sociology professor.

"It is normal in this post- socialist country to support those who are weaker and who take risks not to pay taxes to the state. Ambrus is looked upon as a hero as he took risks to achieve what he wanted, unlike those in positions of authority who steal and cheat."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee