A big sum of money, made up mainly of euro banknotes, was stolen by five robbers in what appears to have been a well-planned daring hold-up at an HSBC branch in Balzan, at about 12.40 p.m., yesterday.

Sources said the haul was in the region of €1 million.

The bank, which did not disclose the amount stolen, said none of the staff or customers inside the bank were injured.

The police were on the spot within minutes and later were interviewing a number of people.

HSBC is offering a reward of Lm25,000 (€58,234) for information supplied to the police that could lead to the arrest and arraignment of the robbers.

According to the police, five hooded and armed persons burst into the branch. One of them pointed a firearm at staff and clients at the counters while the others went straight to the strong room from where they removed Maltese and euro currency in banknotes.

They then ran out of the branch into a getaway car which sped off in the direction of San Anton Gardens. The car was later found abandoned at Fleur de Lys.

Most probably the car and a Toyota van found close to the bank and which the police believe was used in the hold-up, had been stolen at the planning stage of the hold-up.

It is believed that before the bank raid, the robbers drove to Balzan in two vehicles, the Toyota van and the getaway car. At one point some 200 metres away, those inside the Toyota alighted, abandoning the vehicle in the middle of Triq il-Kbira which leads traffic to Pjazza Bertu Fenech where the HSBC branch is situated.

It is understood that the van blocked access to the square to traffic coming from Birkirkara.

It is also understood that the robbers then drove the car to the branch.

The Balzan police station situation right opposite the bank branch was closed at the time.

Sources said the police inspected video footage from a security camera located above the entrance of the branch. There is another CCTV camera across the square.

Apart from the logistics of the hold-up, the sources also noted the timing of the raid on the branch which, at this time of the month, is usually busy dealing with the cashing of pension cheques and other transactions. Magistrate Doreen Clarke held an on site inquiry and appointed various court experts. These included architect Richard Aquilina.

HSBC Malta CEO Shawn Willis was at the branch for most of the afternoon as staff members were recovering from shock and were being interviewed by the police about their ordeal.

William Portelli, of the Malta Union of Bank Employees, was also at the branch.

This was the first time such a large amount of euros were stolen in a bank hold-up and it occurred exactly one month before Malta adopts the euro as its currency.

The General Workers' Union's professionals, finances and services section expressed solidarity with the HSBC branch staff. It said that such criminal actions not only negatively affected the banking system but created needless tension among the workers.

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