It was described as one the biggest alleged heists in the history of bank robbery: over $400m reportedly stolen from Mosul financial institutions by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, known as Isis, as it seized control of Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul last month.
But Iraqi bankers in Mosul and the capital, Baghdad, are saying the robbery never took place and that the cash remains inside the vaults of the city's banks.
"We have been following up on this question of the stolen money since the beginning of the crisis," Abdul-Aziz Hassoun, executive director of the Iraqi Private Banks League, told the Financial Times during a recent meeting in Baghdad.
"We speak to the banks there all the time. We have been informed that all are guarded from the outside by their own guards and that nothing has been removed from the premises of any banks, not even a piece of paper."
Reports that Isis had stolen the 500bn ($430m) Iraqi dinars from Mosul financial institutions as the Islamist group and its Sunni insurgent allies seized control of the city more than a month ago raised alarm bells in the west and throughout the region, amid concern over the ambitions and growing capacity of extremist Islamists.
Iraqi officials, including one-time CIA asset and lawmaker Ahmed Chalabi, described the alleged bank heist in comments cited by Iraqi and international media.
But Atheel al-Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, rejects the stories of vast sums of money being taken away by militants.
"Nobody until now has confirmed that story," he said in a telephone interview from Erbil.
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Not a single witness account has emerged of the Isis members making off with any money and executives and employees from among the 20 private banks and 15 or so government bank branches in Mosul say there is no evidence that militants stole any money from the banks, many of which continue to operate.
Isis itself has never claimed to have stolen cash, though it has boasted repeatedly of the millions of dollars in US military equipment it looted from Iraqi armed forces who fled the city.
"Our branch in Mosul is working normally," said Alaa Karam Allah, CEO of Iraq's United Bank for Investment, which has 21 branches across the country. "It did not close and work has not stopped for a day. None of our workers have been assaulted, and the building is untouched."
Mr Hassoun, with decades of experience in Iraqi banking, said it was doubtful so much money was stored in the city anyway. "Iraq's market is only consumer goods, not much of capital goods," he said.
Only the Central Bank branch in Mosul keeps large quantities of money in its vaults, he said, but the "Central Bank of Iraq has given no hint of such an action".
Reached by telephone in Iraq, Zuhair Ali Akbar, deputy governor of Iraq's Central Bank, twice refused to confirm or deny whether the money had been stolen. The bank itself has issued no public statements about any theft of such a large sum.
But other banking officials in touch with the Central Bank said the money in Mosul remains untouched. "As for the Central Bank in Mosul, it was never robbed," said Talal Ibrahim, executive director of the private Union Bank of Iraq, citing a contact who works at the Mosul branch of the Central Bank. "Not a single cent had been stolen from the bank. Isis never put a hand on the money."
Mr Ibrahim said the Mosul branch of his office had remained open throughout the crisis. "Operations are going on with utmost normality; deposit and withdrawal actions have never stopped," he said. "Currency exchange operations are done according to international rates and sometimes even cheaper."
Several Mosul residents and bank officials said government operated banks, such as Rafidain and Rasheed, which normally distribute the salaries of public-sector employees in Mosul, have been closed. Workers are directed to branches outside the city to collect their earnings.
An employee of the Mosul Bank for Development and Investment said offices there had been closed for weeks. "There are no workers here," he said in a telephone interview from Mosul. "The bank has been closed for weeks now. But there was no storming and no looting."
Labels: (isis) Islamic state of Iraq and Sham, ISIS bank heist. iraq and isis
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