Sixteen suspects were arrested at a warehouse on Monday night in the northern suburbs of the city where the gang stored tools to dig the tunnel and tracks to remove the money. Altogether, police say 20 members of the gang invested 200k Brazlian reais each – a total of 4m reais for the robbery. Police monitored the group for more than two months.
Authorities believe some suspects were involved with a 2011 robbery in Sao Paulo of 170 personal safes at a branch of the Itau bank. Lopes said members of the gang were not connected to the Fortaleza Central Bank heist, as had been reported in the Brazilian media.
The tunnel, which allegedly took four months to build, was illuminated and ventilated and supported by wood and iron. Police are looking for a woman who rented the house for the gang using false identity.
The robbery was allegedly planned for Friday or the weekend and seven stolen cars – found at the gang’s hideout – would have been used to transport the money.
Police named Alceu Céu Gomes Nogueira, 35, as the ringleader of the gang and they also accuse him of helping mastermind a huge robbery on a cash storage vault in Paraguay near the border of Brazil earlier this year, when thieves made off with some $13m (£9.8m) after using grenades, explosives and assault rifles. One police officer was killed.