TOKYO -- Three men stole $2 million in cash and bags of checks from an armored car Tuesday -- the biggest armored car heist in Japanese history -- but the robbers left some $5 million in cash in the truck, authorities said.
Driver Seichi Aizawa, 38, parked the armored car in front of the Yurakucho branch of the Mitsubishi Bank, a major commercial bank in downtown Tokyo, around 8:30 a.m. to make his first delivery of the day.
As he unlocked the back door of the vehicle, two men -- their faces were hidden under helmets -- stepped from a parked car and approached him, a police spokesman said.
One man hit Aizawa on the head and the other squirted him in the face with an unknown chemical from a spray can -- a chemical Aizawa said had a 'stimulating smell.' The driver was not injured.
A short scuffle ensued but the robbers quickly grabbed two cases containing about $2 million in cash and three sacks filled with an undisclosed amount of checks, securities and documents from the van.
They fled in a white van, in which a third man was waiting for them. Police were searching for the trio.
The crime was the biggest robbery of an armored car in Japanese history. But the robbers did not take all the money in the van, which was making the first of four deliveries to Mitsubishi Bank branches at the time and carrying some $7 million in cash alone, the police spokesman said.
Ichiro Satake, 51, manager of the Yurakucho branch of the bank, said in a television interview the delivery van was carrying more cash than usual because the delivery was being made after a three-day weekend. The 25th of each month is also payday for many Japanese workers.
Police said they suspect the robbers knew the route of the armored car and picked a relatively quiet corner of the normally bustling Yurakucho area for the attack.
The getaway van was found in a basement parking lot in the Ginza - a shopping area about 500 yards from the scene of the crime -- about 45 minutes after the robbery The robbers were believed to have escaped from the parking lot in a different vehicle.
The largest U.S. cash robbery in history was $11 million taken from a Sentry Armored Car-Courier in New York Dec. 12, 1982. The biggest ever peacetime robbery was $39 million taken in 1983 from a warehouse vault of Brinks Mat Ltd in London.