In less than five minutes, two gunmen posing as customers, barged into the sales centre at Gafoors’ Land of Canaan Complex, assaulted employees; raided the safe and escaped with more than $6 million.
The two unmasked men, one armed with a handgun and another with what appeared to be a semi-automatic rifle, subsequently dashed out of the office with the cash, ran past three unarmed security guards, and hopped into a waiting yellow taxi which sped north towards Georgetown.
Only the letters HB, used to identify hire cars, were visible on the vehicle’s licence plate, security personnel from the company told Stabroek News yesterday. The numbers had been blocked by what appeared to be scotch tape.
At approximately 1.50pm, an employee of the sales complex reported, a man came into her office space enquiring about some windows. The woman said that she proceeded to check for the order form listed under a name the man had provided.
“The next thing I know I feel the gun to my head and he tell me pass the (expletive) key for the safe,” she said. “I told him I didn’t have the key…I told him the girl outside had the key.”
Four other employees were present in the office where she was being held at gunpoint, the woman said. In the next room, separated by a glass wall, there was a second gunman armed with what employees described as a semi-automatic rifle, manning the entrance to the sales centre. The cashier and several other employees were in that room.
As the man demanded the safe key from her, the still shaken employee recalled, he hit her to the shoulder and across the face. “It appear as though these men know this place well though because the gunman who was in my office walked out, went to the cashier, took away the key from her and came back in here to go in the safe”, the woman said.
More than $6M in cash was in the safe and the perpetrator, according to her, swept all into a bag. Immediately after, he and his colleague started running for the entrance.
A private security officer, who is stationed at the entrance to the sales centre, said that he was attacked by one of the men. The gunman, he recalled, demanded that he leave his desk and lie on the floor.
The man said that he was shocked. It was the first time in his long career as a security officer that he has ever experienced such a situation. His failure to immediately respond to the gunman’s demand was seen as a challenge, he said, and the man started to hit him in the head with his gun butt.
“And that was the last thing I remember,” the guard said. “Apparently I fall down right there on the floor…from what I see and hear here today I can tell you this thing look like it was well organized.”
Unarmed and yellow
Head of security at the complex, Mr. Basdeo (the only name he gave) said that at the time of the incident he was in the rear of the compound. Two security guards employed by the company were on duty at the front gate, he said, while a lone guard from a private security firm was at the entrance of the sales centre.
The guards, according to Mr. Basdeo, are not armed. He further pointed out that there was not much the unarmed guards could have done even if they had confronted the gunmen.
After the perpetrators rushed out of the sales centre, they continued running the 30 or so yards to the front gate. Based on reports gathered from the scene, the two security guards at the gate made no effort to intercept the men.
When questioned about whether two men running towards the gate would not immediately cause the guards on duty to become suspicious, Mr. Basdeo said that he had learnt the perpetrators were running with their guns still in hand. “So when they see the gun I am assuming that they would not have been so quick to react,” he said.
The gunmen, he said, were dressed normally and were not wearing masks. Because employees know what the men look like, Mr. Basdeo pointed out, their safety will definitely be an issue. Arrangements, he said, will be made to tighten security at the complex.
Meanwhile, one of the guards on duty at the front gate reported that after the two gunmen ran through the gate, he ran outside and was just in time to see them jump in the yellow car with the scotch-taped hire car licence plate.
The car, according to him, was parked on the western side of the road and sped north towards Georgetown after the two men got in. A third man, he said, was driving the vehicle.
This is the second incident within the last week in which a yellow car was used by perpetrators to escape. Last Tuesday, after an attempted robbery in Chateau Margot, three of six robbers escaped in a yellow car. Businessman Dennis Ramah and alleged perpetrator Randy Daniels were shot dead during that incident.
It will be exceedingly hard for police to track these getaway cars, security personnel at Gafoors opined, since it was recently stipulated by government that all hire cars be sprayed in the same corporate yellow.
The sales centre is constructed almost entirely of transparent glass and an outsider would have a clear view into the office space where the safe with the money is kept.
An employee, who requested anonymity, told this newspaper that the building was definitely not designed with safety in mind. Anyone can look directly into the building, see the movements of employees and more so, see how cash is handled and where it is stored.
“You see where that safe is being kept,” the employee said motioning to the object in question. “That is definitely not a good spot for something like that to be kept.”
This is the first time, since it was established at the Land of Canaan, East Bank Demerara location, that the complex has been robbed. In the past, security personnel said, there have been break-ins but never anything on this scale.
The matter was reported to the Timehri Police Station. When Stabroek News arrived at the scene shortly before 4.30pm, investigators had already visited and had taken statements from employees.