Greek burglars cash in as savers flee banks

Thu May 24, 2012 11:22am EDT
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By Renee Maltezou and Peter Graff

ATHENS (Reuters) - Andreas and Emilia Karabalis, who are both 80, feared their bank in Greece would collapse, so they withdrew their 80,000 euros ($100,000) savings and stashed it at home for safety.

Days later, the thieves came in the night.

"We were sleeping. The two masked burglars came to our bed and tied us up. They hit us. They robbed us - they didn't leave anything, it was torture," said Emilia, who still trembles when she recalls the attack this month on the island of Lefkada.

Husband Andreas added: "Our life is black now. They took our life's savings. We lost everything."

No one knows just how much cash lies stashed in Greek homes, secreted in cupboards, at the back of the ice-box, beneath the floor or under the mattress. But by any guess it is well in the billions, and burglars are after their share of loot which is both highly portable and virtually impossible to recover.

Greece's debt crisis has plunged it into five straight years of economic contraction, thrown half of its young people out of work and may see it ejected from the euro zone. In the past two years, Greeks have withdrawn from banks more than 72 billion euros - or close to 7,000 euros for every man, woman and child in the country. And much of that has been taken in cash.


Police say that gangs who may have once eyed "hard targets", - like the banks themselves, or jewelers - are now going after homes of ordinary people, where there is far less risk and often large stashes of cash freshly withdrawn from savings accounts.   Continued...

A man makes a transaction at an ATM machine outside a bank branch in central Athens May 24, 2012. REUTERS/John Kolesidis