It was early in the day on September 23, 2009 when the helicopter lowered onto the roof of the G4S cash depot in the Swedish capital city of Stockholm. The workers there weren’t expecting the chopper, nor were they expecting what followed: its occupants smashed their way into the building, opened security doors with small bombs, and made off with several bags of cash. They scored over 39 million kronor ($5.3 million) in the job.
That robbery – its planning, execution, and aftermath – forms the basis of Jonas Bonnier’s non-fiction novel The Helicopter Heist, a meticulously researched, riveting account of the crime. The book, previously published in Sweden, has now made its way to our shores in advance of the forthcoming, Netflix-funded film adaptation starring Jake Gyllenhaal. We’re pleased to present this excerpt:
FROM CHAPTER 15 It wasn’t like in the movies. Sami Farhan had never been to a racecourse before, but he felt like he had seen hundreds of Hollywood films full of people doing dodgy deals as they walked around the trotting tracks, or cheering on their favorites from the stands. The atmosphere at Täby Racecourse was nothing like that. On the way in, there had been far more horse paddocks and stalls than he had expected, but once they reached the main building, he couldn’t hide his disappointment. There was barely anyone around, and the whole place was in disrepair. It was a gloomy, abandoned scene. “Where is everyone?” Sami asked. “At home in front of their computers,” Toomas Mandel replied. “They built these grandstands before you could gamble online. They thought thousands of people would come to the races. Tens of thousands. But now you’d be lucky to see a few hundred.” It seemed incredible. If you watched daytime TV in Sweden, harness and traditional racing seemed to be two of the country’s great interests. How many times had Sami seen cute girls with huge microphones asking short men in colorful clothes whether the track was heavy or not? Where were all the TV cameras today? They went into the restaurant. It took Sami a moment to realize that the restaurant was Täby Racecourse. There was nothing else for the spectators. “I don’t know,” he said as they each ordered a tomato salad from an old, bored waiter. “If it’s this empty, surely there can’t be any money here? You know what I mean?” “No,” Mandel said. “There isn’t. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year, you’d get no more than small change. That’s why they reduced the number of security guards and got rid of the police. These days, they only have surveillance around the tracks and the stalls. They’re not worried about anyone stealing money, they’re just worried someone’s going to . . . mess with the horses.” Sami nodded. He knew people who had made money on harness racing. People he had grown up with, but others too. People from the pub. Half celebrities. Mafia. “OK,” Sami said. “So tell me the plan again?” “The Diana Race is the exception. It’s the same day as the Jockey Club’s Jubilee Race. Always in early summer. I’d guess there’d be up to ten million in cash here then. Maybe more? Still no police or guards though.” “Ten million?” Sami repeated. He was disappointed. Like always when you were planning a job, people had a tendency to overexaggerate. Toomas Mandel was trying to sell this opportunity, and it was clear he was exaggerating. Meaning the ten million was probably more like five. Which would be split among several people. “It’s not that much,” Mandel agreed, “but it’s relative to the risk. It’s a small amount of money, but it’s low risk.” “Riding down to the boat club afterward? Low risk? That’s not low risk.” “I told you, the riding thing is just one of several ideas,” Mandel replied, sounding annoyed. “Forget that. I’ll think of something else.” Their salads arrived. Sami could say with confidence that the restaurant kitchen at Täby Racecourse wouldn’t be the future of racing. And that, despite having had several weeks, Mandel still hadn’t come up with anything better than riding off with the money. Like a couple of cowboys. Sami called Michel Maloof that same afternoon, and they agreed to meet in Skärholmen the next day. He had thought he would be able to sneak off for a few hours around lunch, but Karin woke with a migraine and he had no other option than to take the baby with him. They hadn’t decided on a name yet, but it had taken a while last time too. Karin was relieved when he left. It meant she could pull down the blinds in the bedroom and wrap herself in darkness; the only way to dull the pain. Her mother was taking care of John. Sami left the stroller at home, as it was impossible to get around with one on the subway. And so, with a warmly dressed baby in his arms—though it was the second week in May, the temperature still hadn’t made it above 50 degrees—he walked down to Slussen and took the red line out to Skärholmen. Sami didn’t know what the baby could see through the dark windows in the tunnels, but it must have been fascinating enough to keep him captivated the entire way. When they finally arrived, he was so tired that he had fallen asleep. They met outside a Foot Locker. The baby lay like a bundle over his father’s shoulder, and Sami effortlessly greeted Maloof with his right hand. Maloof laughed and nodded. “That alive . . . or what?” “You bet your ass,” said Sami. Maloof laughed again. “Right, right. But you know . . . Pacino probably wouldn’t—” “I’m not Al Pacino,” Sami interrupted him. “No, no, not even Al Pacino is these days,” Maloof agreed. They started walking. It was just before lunch on a Thursday, and the shopping center wouldn’t be setting any new sales records that day. But there were still enough people around for no one to pay any attention to the ill-matched pair, the short Lebanese man and the big Iraqi with a baby on his shoulder. Sami had peeled back the baby’s outer layers of clothing like a banana skin. They were now hanging from his feet. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. Maloof nodded. He had too. He didn’t know if he wanted to call it a plan. It was more like jigsaw pieces scattered around his head, waiting to be put together. “Yeah?” “What kind of money are we talking about? Do you know?” Sami asked. “Yeah, yeah. More than any individual bank in Sweden. You want the exact amount?” “Roughly?” “Half a billion?” Maloof suggested. Sami nodded. He absentmindedly patted the baby’s diaper through his trousers. It was as he had thought. There was no comparing it with the Täby Racecourse job. “How do we move forward?” he asked. “The first step . . .” said Maloof, “is to find a helicopter.” Because if they were going to pull off the job in Västberga, they were going to need a helicopter. There were a number of different ways of getting onto the roof, but only one realistic way to get off it. Since his conversation with Petrovic, Maloof had looked into how fast a crane could drive, and then banished the thought. He had even learned about using climbing equipment, bolts and ropes, on mortar. It was too complicated. Elegant solutions like hot air balloons and gliders looked exciting on film, but they were unthinkable in reality. Jet packs, on the other hand, those small flying motors you wore on your back, were a possibility. But if you could afford to buy a couple of jet packs, you didn’t need to rob a cash depot. No, it had to be a helicopter, or else they could forget the whole idea. “OK,” said Sami. “A helicopter.”
From “The Helicopter Heist” by Jonas Bonnier, out now from Other Press Paperback Originals. All rights reserved.