Following the admission by a Republic Bank (Guyana) Limited staffer earlier this month that he participated in a failed plot to rob the Water Street branch of its night deposit bags, the private sector is to seek a meeting with the bankers’ association on a range of security issues.
The collusion by the staffer has raised even more concerns about the spate of attacks on customers after they have left banks.
It has also thrown up questions regarding the screening procedures used by banks before hiring, and the monitoring of employees for any links to the criminal world once they become settled in the job.
Aside from the elaborate plotting, there were also reports that in this recent case, a bank employee texted his accomplices from within the bank to alert them that the plan could not be carried out since an important aspect had fallen through. There have been fears for a long time that customers making large withdrawals could be identified by persons within the bank and made easy targets for armed accomplices waiting on the outside.
On July 14, Jamal Haynes, 24, a bank employee, pleaded guilty to participating in the foiled armed robbery ten days earlier. He was sentenced to two years in jail. Additionally, he faced five other charges for firearm and ammunition possession, discharging a loaded firearm, holding a bank employee hostage and robbery. He pleaded guilty to the charges of firearm and ammunition possession, for which he was jailed for four years with a fine of $180,000, and holding a bank employee hostage, for which he was fined $100,000, with an alternative of six months in jail.
Shawn Grimmond, another bank employee and three others who it is alleged were also involved in the would-be robbery, were charged and are on remand until August 11.
When contacted by Sunday Stabroek recently Republic Bank (Guyana) Limited declined to speak, saying that the bank had already issued a statement and would be saying nothing more.
The statement being referred to, was issued hours after the attempted robbery was committed. It did not acknowledge that Haynes was an employee or seek to assure its customers and the general public that the bank was taking steps to prevent a recurrence and detect rogue employees.
This newspaper also reached out to the Guyana Association of Bankers but was told that its head, Richard Sammy, who is Republic Bank’s Managing Director, is on leave.
According to the information reaching this newspaper, the association is not open about its work and several sources have since expressed concern about this saying that customers, the public and the private sector ought to be provided with information on its operations. This newspaper was told that the association has no office.
The police, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) have all said that this case is an isolated incident.
A senior police official, when contacted by Sunday Stabroek, said that there is no evidence that bank employees are colluding with criminals to rob the bank or customers. “This was an isolated case,” the official said, adding that in order to prove collusion investigators need evidence; this they do not have. He said there was nothing to suggest that the five were involved in any other bank robbery.
On July 21, a man was shot and wounded shortly completing business at Republic Bank’s Water Street branch. Over the years, similar instances have occurred. However Haynes’s confession is the first authorities have had linking a bank employee to a bank robbery in recent times.
According to PSC Chairman Edward Boyer, there will always be concerns about the safety and security of persons doing cash transactions at banks. While noting that banks ought to be more vigilant, he pointed out that attacks on customers through collusion happen worldwide. “We are not isolated. It happens,” he said.
Stressing that people must have confidence in the bank system and not be fearful, he said banks ought to pay attention to the security they offer customers as well as scrutinise the persons they employ.
GCCI President Deodat Indar agreed that banks have a part to play in ensuring that they operate in a secure environment by making certain those hired are properly screened.
“The banks need to employ extra screening procedures for their employees not just the normal HR [human resource] screening with the three reference checks and those kind of rudimentary checks they would do. They would need to up their screening with their employees to make sure that they get further background information on their employees to avoid as much as they can…any kind of collusion with the criminal elements,” he said.
Indar stated that every bank needs to understand the security risks which exist, the areas in which they are most vulnerable and try to tighten up those areas. “They need to do an internal risk assessment and they need to get professionals to do it,” he stressed.
Boyer advised all persons using banks to be cautious and urged banks to look at the matter as a serious problem and take the necessary precautions.
He advised the business community to utilise armoured cash escorts and cheques.
“Why take the risk? The cost is nominal compared to what you will lose. If it is a lot of cash, hire somebody to go to the bank with the money. There are a number of security services…. You pay $10,000 and your money is safe in the bank and you are safe,” he said, adding that the risk which is always there would be minimized if precautionary measures are taken.
The PSC, he said, wants to have an audience with the Guyana Association of Bankers, during which it would ask for more vigilance in terms of responsibility and that respective banks scrutinize their employees.
“The PSC is the umbrella body that aims to ensure good in business and making sure the customers are secure. Mr Sammy will definitely be written to …he is part of the PSC and [we will] definitely discuss this but we don’t want to put too much of a strain, where people feel banks are not safe. I don’t think that should be the intention. We want to make it even safer for people going to the bank,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Indar said that the GCCI has written to the Guyana Association of Bankers which has since requested some details on what would be raised during the meeting. He said the GCCI subsequently provided that information and is now awaiting the setting of a date. He said the meeting will not only involve the discussion of security issues but also general issues concerning the foreign currency market and bank fees being charged to customers.
He noted that while every bank will have its own security apparatus, business persons leaving the banks have to be careful.
“Be very careful. Try your best to make sure that you have as little amount of cash as possible… try your best to pay with cheques, to collect with cheques, so that you don’t have much transactions to and from the bank,” he said.
One of the plotters, an agronomist, Elton Wray, was fatally shot, while Haynes and Keron Saunders were captured after their bid to rob the bank. Wray and Haynes were said to be best friends.
Wray also known as ‘Peas’, 25, of Eccles, East Bank Demerara, was said to be the mastermind.
Haynes was shot twice to his legs.
During the attack, which occurred around 7.53 am, two of the gunmen held two employees of the bank hostage during their attempt to flee. However, neither employee was harmed.
It was previously reported that the gunmen used one of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) rooms to gain entry to the adjoining ground floor of the bank as employees were entering the building to report for duty.
Once inside, they reportedly ran toward an area where there were canisters but discovered that they were empty. Because the men opened fire, members of the Professional Guard Service (PGS), which guards the bank, took up positions and engaged the gunmen.
The gunmen appeared to have panicked. Wray attempted to escape by running towards the new vendors’ arcade area. He was pursued by a guard and was shot.
Haynes, on the other hand, held a male teller hostage and ran to a cafeteria located behind the arcade. Once there, he shed a black outfit, a wig and a mask he had been wearing and pretended to be a cook. However, persons in the area raised an alarm and he was shot and apprehended.
Saunders, who was left in the building, also emerged with a hostage but he was subdued and arrested.
George and Blackman who are police constables were subsequently arrested.
According to reports received by this newspaper, the robbery was planned over a three-month period. Haynes and his accomplices were relying heavily on the presence of a female staffer whose duty it was to empty the night deposit boxes. Given that it was a three-day holiday weekend, it was anticipated that a large number of night deposits would have been made.
Police investigators received information that the female staffer should have been at work at a specific time and should have been emptying the chute of the night deposits when Haynes, Wray and Saunders stormed the bank. It was reported that the woman usually got to work on time but on this particular day she was late. An accomplice who was inside the bank, desperately tried reaching the trio via text messaging to inform them that the plan had to be delayed because the woman had not yet reported for duty.
However, by that time, the plan was already in motion. It would appear that it was around this same time that the woman arrived at the back entrance and once informed of what was happening, went away. Employees who were in the vaults, reportedly saw the gunmen on the security cameras and immediately raised an alarm.
Moved to greed
Meanwhile, a senior official at a one of the commercial banks insisted that banks are doing all they can to ensure that they hire honest individuals but at the same time it needs to be understood that these persons can be influenced by those on the outside.
“You do due diligence, reference checks, speak to the previous employer, do character references and ask for police clearance. Some employers, not only banks, do Google checks and check Facebook to see the type of posts made and those can raise red flags,” she said while pointing out that social media is a good tool for monitoring employees.
It was pointed out that persons have been known to post incriminating photographs on social media.
The official expressed the view that banks have a good screening process and are doing all they can, to hire the best quality of employees.
“How much can you do? They bring references from pastors, teachers, community leaders and so on,” she pointed out while adding that she did not believe anyone sought employment at a bank so as to carry out a robbery, but rather it was something that could develop while on the job among some, particularly because they were constantly exposed to large amounts of cash.
She explained that people rob for a variety of reasons and it is in these instances that collusion occurs. She noted that in the recent case with Republic Bank it was alleged that one of the robbers wanted money to travel abroad to visit his girlfriend. “That there is a classic example of how an honest employee can be moved to greed; to commit a robbery because the opportunity presented itself – and then remember, they have access to information,” she said.
She stressed that all banks will have written policies that employees must adhere to.
“You hire them and work with them and most times there is nothing really that tells you that they would collude,” she noted.
An employee of another bank said that the screening process was not that rigid. It was explained that the process at the bank where he works involves a written exam, an interview and a medical examination and once all those requirements are met, you are hired. Once hired, the employee said, a declaration of secrecy has to be signed given the sensitive information that can be accessed.
He agreed that while everyone doesn’t have access to the same information because of the departments in which they work, there can be information sharing. “No information is supposed to leave the bank, but everything is on the system,” he said adding that the amount of information an employee can physically access depends on their position and the department in which they work. All tellers, for instance, will have access to account information, this newspaper was told.
It was pointed out too that all banks have internal cameras which can monitor the activities of employees, who are also not allowed to use their cell phones during working hours. However cell phone use is permitted during the lunch break.