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Bank worker charged in heist

Supervisor cited robbers' threats

BELFAST -- A Northern Bank supervisor who said he aided a gang of robbers under the threat of death was charged yesterday as a willing participant in the record $50 million heist.

Chris Ward, 24, did not offer a plea as he stood in the dock for his arraignment, but his defense lawyer Niall Murphy, said the accusation that Ward was the gang's inside man was completely circumstantial.

Magistrate Ken Nixon ordered Ward held without bail until a Jan. 4 court appearance.

Police arrested Ward on Nov. 29 at his family home in Poleglass, an Irish Republican Army power base on the edge of West Belfast.

Government officials, police chiefs and a panel of international experts have blamed the robbery last year on the outlawed IRA, which denies involvement.

Ward said in interviews after the heist that an armed gang took over his home the night of Dec. 19 and warned him to cooperate with a robbery of the bank's central vault or he and his family would be killed.

Specialists considered the Northern Bank raid the world's biggest cash robbery of a bank in peacetime until it was knocked into second place in August, when robbers stole about $70 million from a Brazilian bank.

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