Moldovian felon in ATM heist deported

Niklae Penkov (left) are escorted by immigration officers at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport before he is deported Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of the National Immigration Agency

TAIPEI (CNA) — A Moldovian man who was jailed in Taiwan for his involvement in the theft of tens of millions of dollars from ATMs in 2016 was deported Tuesday night, after completing his four year and six month sentence earlier in the day, according to the National Immigration Agency (NIA).

Niklae Penkov, who was released from Taipei Prison and transferred to an NIA detention center, left Taiwan on a Turkish Airlines flight, the NIA said late Tuesday.

Penkov is the first of three men convicted in the 2016 ATM robbery to be released from prison. The other two — Colibaba Mihail of Romania and alleged mastermind Peregudovs Andrejs of Latvia — have yet to complete their sentences of four years and eight months and four years and 10 months, respectively.

The three men were arrested on July 17, 2016 after dozens of First Bank ATMs in Taipei, New Taipei and Taichung were robbed, resulting in a haul of NT$83.27 million (US$2.76 million at the exchange rate at the time).

The men were among 22 members of an East European crime ring that allegedly planned the ATM robberies. Nineteen of the gang fled Taiwan and were subsequently placed on a wanted list.

The heist was carried out July 9-11, 2016 after the suspects hacked the bank’s computer system.

The robbery came to light when passers-by reported to police that two foreign nationals were seen withdrawing a large amount of cash at a First Bank ATM in Taipei’s Guting District late at night.

Acting on that information, police tracked down the three men who had traveled to Taiwan to pick up the money and smuggle it out of the country, but those who made the withdrawals fled before police could arrest them.

Police retrieved NT$77 million of the stolen cash.