Millions in jewels stolen in L. Seepersaud Maraj raid

-vaults cut open, robbery could have taken five hours; constabulary, private security firm facing questions

This is how the store appears in the Stabroek Market: From left are two of the Maraj brothers Ram and Heera and another relative. (SN file photo)

The proprietors of the L. Seepersaud Maraj and Sons jewellery store at the Stabroek Market, in Georgetown, are now counting millions in losses following a break-in, which has put the security provided by both the City Constabulary and a private firm under scrutiny.

Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, one of the proprietors, Ram Maraj, said that the last check on the stall was made around 9 am on Monday which was a holiday. “Every day we does check this market, whether it’s a holiday or not. One of us have to come to make sure all we stocks in place and everything,” he explained.

Ram, who could not give an estimate of the losses as yet, said he learnt of the break-in after receiving a call from a fellow vendor around 7 am yesterday. It is suspected that the break-in occurred on Monday night.

Ram noted that the bandits gained entry into the stall by piercing the padlock on the grillwork. Once inside, they used a torch to burn out the combination locks to a vault. “They cut the lock and they jump over. But coming into the shop is not the problem but getting into that [the safe] is the issue,” he related.

According to Ram, there are three layers of security before one can gain access to the vault. “…So I don’t know how this was so possible given the amount of time. They had to have a lot of time to get this done,” he added.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page last night, the store said the police recovered tools which included blow torches and other chemicals used. “The vault had three (3) doors and each door was cut with precision. It is sufficient to say that the perpetrators of this crime aren’t novices, but highly skilled thieves,” it noted, while pointing out that several security specialists and others trained in ironwork and welding who were consulted indicated that it would have taken “no less than five (5) hours for the vaults to be cut open.”

Additionally, the store, which has been in business since 1935,  said two city constables claimed that checks were done earlier in the market but nothing was discovered.

It was also noted that the store, which is found under the clock in the Stabroek Market,  was secured with an alarm system that was being monitored by the MMC Security Force and  the alarm was set off three times on Monday night. “However MMC never informed us or the police that the alarms went off. On every other occasion, whenever the alarm is set off, MMC would call us immediately and the fact that we never received any calls or reports from them is puzzling,” the store added.

“As stall owners operating under market rules, we have no choice but to depend on the City Constabulary for security whenever the market is closed. At the time of writing this, we have not been contacted by anyone from the Mayor and City Council’s Office or the Town Clerk’s Office. We are surprised at the lack of care and diligence by the City Constabulary in not observing that such an elaborate crime was being perpetuated over so many hours,” the store also said.

When Stabroek News visited the scene yesterday, the business was closed and contractors were effecting repairs.

Ram said the business will be open as per normal from today.

It is unclear if there was any surveillance footage which might have captured the break-in.

Crime Chief Paul Williams told Stabroek News an investigation has been launched but no one had yet been apprehended.

Williams said he and a team of investigators from the Criminal Investigation Department’s Major Crimes Unit visited the scene yesterday afternoon and interacted with the proprietors.

Meanwhile, when contacted for a comment yesterday afternoon, Chief Constable Andrew Foo said that the City Constabulary learnt of the break-in between 9.30 and 10 am yesterday.

Foo said that no report of the break-in was made to the constabulary as the victims called the police. However, he noted that the constabulary still has a responsibility to investigate. “We have a responsibility to conduct our internal investigation. The Guyana Police Force is in charge of this investigation because of its nature,” he said.

In the store’s Facebook post, the proprietors said their father, L. Seepersaud Maraj, taught them that the cornerstone of their business was the personal relationship they enjoy with their customers, whom they regard as their extended family. “We are now appealing to you, to contact us or the police if you have any information regarding this robbery and keep us in your prayers,” they added.

L. Seepersaud Maraj & Sons was inherited by the three brothers from their father who started the family’s rise from his own toil on the Diamond Sugar Estate.