While expressing concern at the frequency of armed robberies committed on bank customers, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan yesterday said he has asked that police conduct sting operations to catch those responsible.
“I am very absolutely concerned. As a matter of fact, I have also asked… [Acting Police Commissioner] Mr [David] Ramnarine that we do some sting operations in relation to it but to get sting operations done requires some information from members of the public as to who might be doing this thing, whether it is from the banks,” Ramjattan said in response to a question from Stabroek News at a press conference yesterday.
Since the start of the year, nine such robberies have been committed, with the majority occurring in February.
Responding to questions, Ramjattan said sting operations were first discussed with now retired Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud.
He said that banks are also being asked to install Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in and around their facilities. “We now understand these thieves are so smart they do not go next to the cameras or where the cameras coverage area is, they go some distance and somehow manage to get the information,” he said.
Ramjattan added that based on the information provided to him, bank tellers are not involved. “We now understand that investigations have been carried out in the banks and the banks have all their employees’ phones taken away from them…. when they are working. If they gotta give out a $5 million to a person, they don’t have their phone,” he said.
Aside from paid informants, the minister insisted that the police need the help of those in the community, including family members, to catch the perpetrators. “Parents and brothers and sisters of these thief men know who they are, just like the ones in Berbice,” he said.
He pleaded with members of the community to speak out if they have suspicions that a person may be involved in criminal activity.
“We need as much information as possible to come from members of the public… It’s a small society, we ain’t got a million people and everybody know everybody business…We are working on it [but] it requires information gathering and then the analysis into intellegence but coming from sources that are reliable because we have gone on some very wild goose chases because we have gotten wrong information on certain robberies,” he said.
Following the recent attacks, some of the victims believe that the bandits may have had lookouts posing as customers who fed them information as they lay in wait outside.
In each instance, the customer was robbed shortly after withdrawing large sums of cash. Four of the cases are linked to one branch of Republic Bank (Guyana) Ltd.
Fisherman Eddy Brandon, who was robbed of $7 million on February 9th, still believes that a bank employee played a part in the attack on him. However, he concedes that it is possible the bandits may have been fed information by a person posing as a customer.
“Yes that could be possible. Is a long time they had me in the bank,” he said during a recent interview.
Brandon spent almost two hours at the Republic Bank Triumph branch on the East Coast Demerara trying to execute what should have been a simple transaction.
He admitted that a number of persons inside the bank would have seen him packing the money into a yellow envelope that he had in his possession. He had said that in addition to the long time he was waiting to get his business in the bank done, the teller had him waiting for the better part of an hour for the cash.
The bank has since said that while it is saddened by the loss Brandon suffered, a review was conducted and no evidence was found to implicate any bank employee in the robbery.
Brandon maintained that when he left the bank with the money, he saw nothing suspicious outside.
In retrospect, he said it could be possible that someone who was inside the bank tipped off the bandits.
“I was on the road ten minutes and I ain’t see no car, nobody,” he said.
Brandon, a resident of Cove and John, and his 17-year-old daughter were robbed by gunmen, who were travelling in a car, as they were making their way home. He said that he has heard nothing from the police of recent.
Bisnauth Terry Chan, an electrical contractor who was robbed on February 21st of $600,000, told this newspaper that as he was turning away from the teller with the cash, he noticed a woman hurriedly exiting the line at the Republic Bank Triumph branch. However, he says it may have been coincidental.
“As I leave the teller, she leave the line but I didn’t focus on her because of the amount of people in the line. When I come out a friend call and I had to answer the phone so I didn’t focus on no one or see which direction she went,” he explained.
Chan, who was recently released from the hospital, noted that an employee attended an identification parade but was unable to identify any of the bandits.
“A set of old criminals they bring deh, so it ain’t mek no sense,” he stressed.
Chan had recounted to this newspaper that while in the vicinity of Mon Repos market, not far from the bank, he suspected that he was being trailed by a motor car which was going at the same rate his motor cycle was. He said that the driver made no effort to pass him though he could have. Later, he said, while at Lusignan Market he saw a CG motorcycle with no number plate proceeding at a fast rate towards him.
He recalled that he accelerated and managed to lose the motorcycle. The car was still behind him and when he reached Melanie he saw both the bike and the car. He was robbed in front of his worksite along the Enmore Public Road.
A victim of an attack from several years ago told this newspaper that his experience changed his life. He said that very often banks are packed and “yuh don’t know who is who.” He is convinced that criminals have lookouts inside the banks. “I think dem man does get they people inside all them bank looking fuh see who they could rob. Them banks don’t allow you to make calls on yuh phone but you can use WhatsApp and text,” the man said.
As a result, he thinks that police need undercover ranks inside the banks. “They can’t deh pon de outside saying their gathering intelligence. They gotta come in deh. They could even pose as a customer and do a large money transaction. The police in Guyana need to think outside the box and stop trying to depend on people to give them information,” he said while noting that every bank customer should be concerned.
According to the man, he now avoids taking large sums of cash from the bank and quickly pointed out that even this would not keep the bandits away as people are being robbed of their “small change. Sometimes customers get robbed of a $100, 000 and dem sort of small money.”
The man noted that he is now forced to utilise his bank card at expensive stores as opposed to the cheaper ones which have no point of sales machines. “The authorities are talking plenty about using plastic but that don’t make no sense because I can’t go to them lil stores on Regent Street to buy my goods or the lil stall in Bourda Market to buy my rice and sugar. I have to go to the supermarket and established hardware stores just to make sure a man with a gun don’t rob me of the $50, 000 I got.” he stressed.
This newspaper made numerous attempts to contact Crime Chief (ag) Paul Williams to ascertain whether the police are working on the theory that there are lookout in banks and for information on the police’s investigations but was unsuccessful.
Based on this newspaper’s records, two customers were robbed in January while the other six incidents occurred in February.
In four cases, customers conducted business at Republic Bank’s Triumph location, one at Citizens Bank on Camp Street, one at Scotiabank, Robb Street, one at Demerara Bank at Diamond and one at the Diamond branch of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI).
In more than half of the cases, a car was the vehicle of choice utilised by the bandits. In the other cases, motorcycles were used.
On January 6th, Ravindranauth Bhim was robbed of $300,000 almost an hour and a half after he cashed a cheque at GBTI’s Diamond branch. Bhim, a contractor, was in the company of two employees when two gunmen on a motorcycle robbed them. The stolen money was the payment for workers who were waiting on Bhim at Bel Air, Greater Georgetown.
On January 31st, Cy Rodrigues, a civil engineer, was cornered and shot in a Chinese restaurant by an armed bandit, who then snatched his bag containing $5,000 in cash and other valuable. The man ended up at the restaurant to have a meal after visiting the Republic Bank Triumph branch to make a withdrawal to transact some business at Houston, East Bank Demerara.
Then on February 15th, at Middle Street, Vryheids Lust, Deomattie Seeram and Deodat Ramdeo were robbed at gunpoint of $7.4 million by two motorcycle bandits. The money was received from Citizen’s Bank following the cashing of a cheque.
On February 22nd, Lionel Persaud, a Deputy Programme Manager at the CARICOM Secretariat, was shot and robbed shortly after making a $264,000 withdrawal from Republic Bank. The robbery occurred around 2.30 pm at Atlantic Gardens, East Coast Demerara and was committed a lone gunman travelling in a motor car.
On February 26th, businessman Jonathan Alli and his salesman Dexter Cyrus were robbed of $2 million after conducting business at two commercial banks at Diamond. The robbery was committed by three bandits, who were travelling in a car.
Lawrence Clarke, the director of the Guyana Deaf Mission, was robbed on February 28th of $100, 000 and other valuables moments after returning to his Vlissengen Road office from Scotiabank.
Meanwhile, police said Kuru Kururu housewife Gaillard Doman was one of two people robbed last Saturday after she had earlier in the day made a withdrawal from the GBTI branch at Diamond.
The Guyana Association of Bankers has already expressed deep concern about the escalating incidence of persons being targeted after conducting financial transactions at commercial banks.
“We strongly condemn these incidents and wish to assure our customers and the public at large that as an industry we are working with the relevant authorities and internally with all member banks with a view to arresting this trend”, the association said.