The Moscow Times – The Iraqi Embassy said Tuesday that masked gunmen broke into the diplomatic compound overnight and stole more than $3 million in cash from a safe. The money had been brought to the embassy to pay staff wages and stipends to Iraqi students studying in Moscow, a Moscow police official said on condition of anonymity.
The embassy, tucked away on a narrow street in central Moscow, has been working with a skeleton staff since Ambassador Abbas Khalaf left in early June for U.S.-ordered consultations in Baghdad. The front gate is guarded by a lone Russian police officer, and the few remaining embassy officials have been taking turns staying in the building overnight, said an embassy official who gave his name as M.A. Rajab, an attache in charge of the political and cultural sections. The embassy accountant was on watch when the robbery took place, he said.
“Between 1:30 and 2 a.m., three masked thieves broke through the backdoor of the embassy,” Rajab said.”They knew the accountant was guarding the embassy. They broke the door, threatened him with a gun and a knife, punched him, hit his head and stomach and forced him to open the safe in the accountant’s room.”
Rajab said about $3 million and smaller amounts in rubles and euros were in the safe, which the thieves swept clean. No record of the serial numbers of the bills was kept.
After recovering from the shock of the attack, the accountant telephoned other embassy employees, he said. They notified the guard at the front gate, who was unaware that anything out of the ordinary had happened, and called the police.
A police spokeswoman said the embassy call came in at about 6 a.m.
Rajab did not explain why so much time had passed before the robbery was reported.
He suggested that the robbers were familiar with the embassy layout, its lowered security measures and the large amount of cash that had been brought in.
“We don’t usually keep that much money around,” he said. “My personal view is that the thieves are familiar with the building.” He said he suspected that some former visitors to the embassy carried out the robbery. “The people who work here are trustworthy. We cannot accuse anybody, it’s not fair,” he said.
The accountant suffered a bleeding nose and minor bruises, and an ambulance was called to treat him.
Police have opened an investigation into the robbery.
Meanwhile, a Russian official familiar with the embassy said most of the mission’s Iraqi staff were packing their bags and new officials were expected to arrive next month.
Some embassy employees have already turned in the diplomatic license plates for their cars and are driving with plain white plates, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Rajab did not share his plans, and it remained unclear whether he was headed for Baghdad, some other destination or planned to remain in Moscow. Other embassy employees refused to comment.
Khalaf’s plans were not immediately clear Tuesday. Interfax, citing an unidentified embassy source, reported that he might have decided to abandon his diplomatic career but still return to Moscow in a personal capacity.