updated 2/26/2008 7:23:50 PM ET 2008-02-27T00:23:50

Police arrested the alleged leader of a gang that stole $70 million from a Brazilian bank in what was then the world's biggest heist, authorities said Tuesday.

Jossivam Alves dos Santos was detained Monday in a tire shop in the city of Tabatinga near Brazil's capital, federal inspector Celso Antonio Bandeira de Mello said.

Police said Santos led the August 2005 robbery in the northern city of Fortaleza, where thieves tunneled 260 feet to reach the vault of a Brazilian bank.

The gang used shovels, pickaxes, saws and drills to dig and cut through the vault's steel-reinforced concrete floor, some 3.6 feet thick. They also created a pulley system with a plastic barrel to transport the money through the tunnel.

Eleven suspects have already been convicted, but until Monday's arrest less than $10 million had been recovered.

Authorities seized assets belonging to Santos including a mansion and several gas stations, Mello said, bringing the total recovered to about $30 million at today's exchange rates.

"From now on its going to be easier to figure out the pieces that are missing in this puzzle," Mello said, adding that police are still looking for as many as eight more suspects. "The objective is to catch the criminals and recover as much of the stolen money as possible."

Police had followed Santos for several months after discovering him living in the federal district, he said.

A few months after the robbery, the suspected mastermind responsible for planning the operation, Luis Fernando Ribeiro, was kidnapped and murdered even though his family paid a ransom of nearly $1 million. Another suspect was found killed on a remote ranch.

It was the world's biggest robbery until more than $90 million was stolen from a London security warehouse last year.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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