A couple and their driver were robbed by two alleged police impersonators of millions of dollars in cash and valuables while on their way to the airport in a harrowing ordeal that has raised concern not only within the hierarchy of the Guyana Police Force but also among members of the public.
Based on the information provided to Stabroek News, last Saturday Latchmin Gopaul, the owner of the Academy of Excellence at Cornelia Ida, West Coast Demerara and her husband were heading to Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri when in the vicinity of Land of Canaan they came upon what appeared to be a routine traffic exercise. This was sometime before noon.
The vehicle the couple were in was stopped by two persons reportedly dressed in police uniforms and shortly after they entered the vehicle. They then instructed the driver to drive and the vehicle ended up at a secluded spot on the Linden/Soesdyke highway. There the couple was relieved of large amounts of cash – both local and foreign currency and jewellery. The driver who has been identified as taxi driver Parmanand Teekaram was also relieved of valuables which included cash.
The perpetrators then escaped.
Stabroek News attempted to speak with the Gopauls on Monday but was told that they have left the country. Efforts to speak to Teekaram were also futile.
Given the fact this is the second attack of this nature in as many months, Crime Chief Leslie James urged the public to be alert and to learn how to identify police impersonators.
In an interview with Stabroek News on Monday, James said the instances of police impersonation are of concern to the police.
“It’s of concern to us. I know the members of the public if they’re stopped by persons who are genuinely wearing our uniforms obviously there’ll be some degree of caution,” James noted.
James went on to say that citizens must learn how to pinpoint when something is wrong. “Just after these persons were stopped, these so-called police people just sought to enter these persons’ car and I don’t think that’s how we execute our duties. Clearly that should have indicated that these weren’t genuine police,” the crime chief said.
He also pointed out discrepancies between imitators and real officers including missing cap badges and beltless pants.
He went on, “I would urge the public to continue to be alert. Don’t take anything for granted, especially if you’re in a group; just be cautious. If you’re stopped by a group of persons who appear to be police in your view, just be cautious because of this current situation.” He added, “Any time you see anything amiss, you should take action. Perhaps wind your glass up and maybe you can drive.”
James also advised citizens to ask for identification if they are doubtful of the identities of the persons who have stopped them. “Absolutely nothing is wrong with a member of the public asking a policeman for his identification, especially if you have a doubt,” James emphasized.
When this newspaper spoke with James he said that the perpetrators had not yet been held and he expressed optimism that they will be caught.
Over the years there have been many similar cases. Last month, two priests and a brother along with their Guyanese hosts were on their way from CJIA when they were stopped and later robbed by men posing as police officers. Father Alex Perez, the head of the Formation Center in Guyana had related to this newspaper that he was pulled over at around 2:30 am by men dressed in police uniforms who were also waving lit traffic batons. He said that after he had stopped they were told that it was a routine check. They were then asked to get out of the vehicle.
When they got out of the vehicle, one of the “officers” entered it and drove it off the side of the road. Perez and his company were soon robbed of all of their belongings including their money, green cards, and passports. The car, however, was not taken.
They were then forced to walk well into the “backdam,” where they were made to lie on the ground before being threatened with murder. However, their pleas saved their lives and the attackers went away, leaving the men behind. The men were also armed with guns.
Later, the men of God sought help at a home in the Friendship Squatting Area and a call was placed to 911. However, that attempt was futile. A call was eventually made to the Grove Police Station and police soon arrived in the area.
Genuine policemen who turned up to investigate the incident found the keys to the car in nearby bushes.