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Christmas bank robbery Spain's biggest ever

MARBELLA, Spain -- Thieves burrowed through a wall into a downtown bank and spent Christmas emptying its vault of almost $8 million in cash, jewels and valuables kept in safe deposit boxes by visiting jet-setters and well-heeled residents.

It was the biggest robbery in Spanish history.

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Some of the bank's customers -- among them Spanish aristocrat Jaime de Mora y Aragon, brother of Belgium Queen Fabiola -- were seen Tuesday leaving the branch office of the Bank of Andalusia with worried looks after reporting theirlosses.

Police, who put loot total at $7.9 million, said they believed the job was carried out by a group of international professional thieves rather than any local gang.

Police said the thieves emptied 200 private safe deposit boxes while the bank was closed for three days over the Christmas holiday. The theft was discovered Monday morning.

Authorities said they had no immediate trace of the robbers.

The gang dug a hole in the bank wall from a vacant apartment in the building next door, short-circuited a sophisticated alarm system and cut open the vault with acetylene torches.

The bank is located on the main street of the seaside resort, but any noise the robbers might have made was covered by traffic and two nearby discotheques, police sources said.

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The operation was similar to a July 1976 robbery in Nice, France, when thieves tunneled through the sewers under Societe Generale bank and spent a weekend rifling 339 safe deposit boxes and two armored closets to net some $9.8 million. The brain of that job, Albert Spaggiari, was later arrested but escaped custody by jumping out the window of a courtroom and into a waiting car.

Marbella, located on the Costa del Sol, is a favorite retreat of the rich. In recent years it has become popular with Arabs who began showing up when fighting broke out in their former vacation spot of Beirut.

Bank and police officials declined to say whether any Arab clients were among those suffering losses in the burglary.

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