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City witnesses Rs53 million bank heist

May 01, 2013

KARACHI, April 30: Some half a dozen armed bandits stormed into a private bank branch on University Road after the sunset on Tuesday again in connivance with a private security guard and walked off with more than Rs53 million in one of the biggest bank robberies in recent years, police said.

The police added that staff members of the UBL branch near Chandni Chowk on University Road were busy counting cash in one of the rooms of the facility which was not properly locked after 7pm when someone knocked and opened the door. The staffers were shocked to find nearly half a dozen armed men accompanied by their private guard, Sheikh Mohammad Tahir, standing at the bank entrance.

“This UBL branch is a regional headquarter where cash from all region’s branches came at the end of every month,” said SSP east Imran Shaukat. “It was a common practice that the guard performing duty there for more than a year knew very well.”

The SSP said that the armed men held staff hostage and completed the job within 20 minutes. “The amount taken away was a little more than Rs53 million,” he added.

He referred to many flaws in security measures as well as “non-professional” practices by the branch staff that allowed the guard to exploit the situation.

The bandits also took away digital video recording (DVR) system linked with close circuit television cameras while running with the booty leaving no evidence to determine their identities and mode of transport they used for the robbery, said the SSP east.

“There was proper police deployment outside the branch and the policemen returned to the police station after banking hours concluded 5pm,” he said. “It’s strange that while knowing that they had to handle huge cash after the banking hours the branch management did not bother to inform the police station neither they asked the authorities for additional security.”

Besides, he said, more than Rs53 million was not being counted inside the strong room rather the staffers were counting it in an ordinary room, which was not even properly locked.

Also, the SSP added, the branch that handled millions of rupees by the end of every month did not have backup of its DVR system.

“The guard was associated with Police Foundation and deployed at the branch in April 2012. We are collecting facts and coordinating with our specialised unit, which has been mandated to investigate bank robberies,” he added.

The police authorities not only blame private security companies for lacking a proper scrutiny system for hiring guards, but also hold private banks responsible for least caring about the security arrangements in their branches.

They called for action from the banking regulator mainly against local banks. Of the 10 bank robberies committed in the city this year, half of them were executed through direct or indirect connivance of the private guards, the police said.

The city also witnessed daring attempts from private security guards earlier this month when two private security guards sustained bullet wounds while resisting an armed robbery at a branch in Defence.

Similarly, last month, three private security guards were shot dead during an armed attack by bandits on their cash van in an Orangi Town. The deceased security guards resisted the robbery attempt to an extent that they laid down their lives and forced nearly one dozen armed men to run away only with Rs400,000 out of around Rs8 million in the cash van.

The private security companies argue that they meet every requirement of verification process laid down by the law-enforcement agencies. They find police investigations into bank heists missing crucial points.

“The police should also question bank staff while investigating these kinds of robberies,” said retired colonel Nisar Ahmed Khara of a private security company. “It’s not possible for every guard to make such daring attempt without any lust or tip off from inside the branch. We make all due arrangements to verify credentials of the guards but we can’t suspect anyone’s honesty or faith after he meets every requirements at the time of appointment.”