Official: Guards rob Iraqi bank, net $500,000

London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, which owns a 70 percent stake in Dar Es Salaam bank, said on Wednesday that less than $1 million in cash was stolen in a raid on a Dar Es Salaam branch in Baghdad.

Earlier, Iraqi police and a bank official in Baghdad said thieves had stolen nearly $300 million in cash from the bank in Karrada, a key commercial district in Baghdad.

An HSBC spokesman in London said the amount was “significantly less than $1 million.” The bulk of the stolen money was in dollars with some in Iraqi dinars, he said. “The incident did involve an armed gang and the detailed circumstances are still being investigated,” the spokesman said.

The Interior Ministry official told NBC News that $366,000 in U.S. dollars and 282 million Iraqi dinars were taken from the bank. “We realize that the news agencies have reported that $300 million were stolen, but in fact we’ve spoken to the Bank Managers today and after an investigation they realized that the numbers were not those reported,” the official said.

An Interior Ministry official told NBC News that the robbers were four guards — two daytime and two nighttime workers — who worked at the private Dar Es Salaam bank in Baghdad’s Karrada district.

“One of the nighttime guards made a deal with the bank robbers and he would attack his partner during his shift and let the robbers in … and so he did,” the official said. “They broke the locks of the cabinets with an oxygen can, got all the keys out and stole the money.”

Police said when bank employees arrived for work on Wednesday they found the front door open and the money gone. The guards, who normally slept at the bank, had also disappeared.

Police said the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry had set up a committee to investigate the theft.

Ever since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, most transactions have been conducted in cash because of limited facilities to transfer money through banks or other financial institutions.

Huge amounts of money were looted from Iraq’s banks during the invasion.

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