Bank robbers up their game to beat security systems

Saturday September 07 2019

A customer at Cooperative Bank branch. Criminals are turning to well-calculated heists where no shots are fired. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The manner in which Sh72 million was stolen outside an ATM in Nairobi West on Thursday has once again demonstrated how bank robbers are upping their game to beat the increasing sophistication of security systems.

With CCTVs all over the country and armed policemen stationed round the clock in banking halls, criminals are increasingly finding it difficult to just walk into a bank and order everyone to lie down like it was being done the old way.


As a result, the use of crude force has been relegated to the back alleys where criminals are likely to get away with a couple of thousands of shillings and a mobile phone if they are lucky.

Instead, criminals are turning to well-calculated robberies where no shots are fired but tens of millions of shillings are stolen.

One emerging trend is the stealing of money that is in transit.


In June, police and the staff of a security company were placed under investigation after Sh2 million that they were escorting from the Aga Khan Hospital went missing. According to the police, the team only delivered Sh5.6 million out of Sh7.6 million that they had collected from the hospital for delivery to a strong room in the Industrial Area.

During the same month, a policeman and a private security guard were arrested following the disappearance of Sh4 million in transit. The money was the day’s collection from a supermarket’s Mountain Mall branch on Thika Road. The security company officers claimed that gunmen grabbed the money just as they were leaving the supermarket.

During the Easter weekend, a string of robberies left Barclays Bank short of at least Sh14 million after four automated teller machines were broken into.

Police reports showed that the theft may have been planned as the machines were either unmanned, tampered with or the CCTV obstructed.


Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti termed it an inside job. Four people were charged with the robbery.

“They know exactly what happened. The outsiders were just there to facilitate the operation, after which they go and share the money, but this time we will reveal to the public what happened,” said the DCI.

In 2016, an employee of a security company allegedly disappeared with Sh25 million at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The KCB Thika branch heist that happened in November 2019 is another thriller of the tens of daring acts of bank robberies perfected in the recent past.

It baffled many how, just 150 metres away from a police station, three people – two brothers and a friend – dug a 30-metre-long tunnel into a bank’s strong room in Thika town and stole Sh52 million.

Halford Munene,32, his brother Charles Mwangi, 30, and their friend Julius Ndungu, 32 demonstrated how gangs can plan successful heists without the use of any weapons or violence of any kind – only brains.

In November 2016, a “boring guy” who kept to himself for the two and a half months he lived next to Equity Bank Kayole’s branch is believed to have executed the theft of Sh27 million in collusion with bank officers. No money was ever recovered.


Only a year earlier, robbers posing as auditors from the head office made away with Sh30 million in the bank’s Othaya branch in Nyeri County. In 2010, Sh80 million was stolen from the Cooperative Bank headquarters on Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi, in a meticulously planned heist involving several employees, a gang and an Administration Police officer.

Retracing the gang’s steps, detectives learnt that they had posed as G4S Cash-In-Transit (CIT) team and even had a van branded in the company colours in hand to cart away the loot.

Sh11.75 million was later recovered and 11 people arrested and charged in a Kibera court.

On July 1, 1999, gunmen stormed the banking hall of Mashreq Bank at the ICEA Building on Kenyatta Avenue and took off with Sh500,000. Witnesses recounted how one of the robbers who was guarding the hostages started belting out the hymn “Abide with Me” as his accomplices emptied the tills and frisked bank customers who walked in unaware of the robbery.

Barely a month later, on August 17, 1999, some six gunmen raided the same bank, which is 500 metres the Central Police Station, while singing the same tune, and took off with Sh9 million. Bank staff raised the alarm more than an hour later.


In yet another heist, committed with apparent ease on January 5, 1999, Charles Omondi, a clearing agent, walked into the Embakasi strong room of Kenya Airfreight Handling Limited and took Sh54 million contained in a parcel.

The money had been brought to the country by Swiss Air from New York and was to be delivered to the offices of Citibank’s Kenyan subsidiary at Fedha Towers in Nairobi’s CBD. It was said to be salary arrears for United Nations staff.

Police gunned down three gangsters in a botched raid at Nakuru East branch of Barclays Bank in October 2012.