alexa Police officers caught in the thick of Sh72m city ATMs cash heist - Daily Nation

Police officers caught in the thick of Sh72m city ATMs cash heist

Sunday September 8 2019

Chris Ayienda and Vincent Owour

Civilians Chris Ayienda and Vincent Owour, who were arrested in Kisii and Kendu Bay respectively over the theft of money from the Standard Chartered Bank. PHOTO | COURTESY 

VINCENT ACHUKA
By VINCENT ACHUKA
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The police officers suspected of stealing Sh72 million in Nairobi on Thursday morning designed a perfect heist only possible in movies, dramatic details pieced together by the Sunday Nation show.

It was heading to a weekend and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) needed to be refilled in the city, meaning there would be a lot of money to steal and share without firing a single shot.

But, as events in the last two days prove, the hardest part is not the actual stealing but spending such a huge amount of money while at the same time staying below the radar.

PR CRISIS

It is the rushed spending of the new found riches by some of the suspects and the huge amounts of cash they were allegedly carrying that is turning what could have easily passed as one of Kenya’s most perfectly executed robberies in recent times to one of the dumbest. By last evening, detectives from the Special Crimes Prevention Unit (SCPU) had arrested 11 people in connection with the robbery and recovered Sh7 million. 

On Monday morning the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is set to charge in court five more suspects.

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Indications are the DCI will ask for more time to solve the puzzle and recover the balance of Sh65 million that is still missing. This is as G4S, which is contracted by several banks to maintain their ATMs and transport cash, tries to wriggle itself out of a public relations crisis. The security company has suffered repeated high-profile robberies, losing hundreds of millions of shillings.

Detectives from SCPU Saturday morning pounced on Administration Police constable Chris Machogu after trailing his mobile phone signal. He allegedly had Sh1,000 notes with consecutive serial numbers amounting to Sh3 million.

On being arrested, Mr Machogu led the detectives to Seko village in Kendu Bay, 36 kilometres away where they arrested Constable Wycliffe Owuor who had Sh3 million on him and a crimson red Subaru Forester registration number KCB 649Z. Like Mr Machogu, Mr Owuor’s Sh1,000 notes also had consecutive serial numbers.

CASH BOXES

“Detectives investigating the matter have established the suspect confirmed that the Subaru Forester was bought on the same day of the theft. The two suspects were planning to travel to Uganda with the cash,” said head of DCI George Kinoti. “They are in our custody awaiting arraignment.”

However, what led detectives to Kisii, more than 300 kilometres away from where the Sh72 million was stolen is the mobile phone communication between Constable Machogu and another police officer also linked to the heist but who was arrested on Friday evening in Kikuyu, Kiambu. In the era of mobile phone tracking, the masterminds of the heist who it is turning out were police officers simply forgot the one method that even they themselves use to track down suspected criminals. The arrest took place exactly 10 hours after a man reported to Kikuyu Police Station that he had stumbled upon broken cash boxes at the Thogoto forest as he headed to work.

On reaching the scene, the officers from Kikuyu Police Station discovered empty bags from Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic Bank, KCB and Barclays Bank. They also recovered a mobile phone, a SIM card with serial number 89254021104175661927 and a jacket belonging to G4S.

The officers immediately notified the SPCU who dispatched a team to the scene. Meanwhile, the number plate of the Toyota Voxy registration number KCE 920E that was captured by CCTV cameras at Nairobi West on the day of the heist had been circulated and the Flying Squad were searching for it.

PAINTED BLACK

Interestingly, while reporting the robbery a whole two hours after it had taken place despite the fact that Nairobi West Patrol Base is a stone’s throw away from the scene of crime, the G4S officers did not tell the police the colour of the vehicle that ferried the stolen cash. The white vehicle was on Friday evening impounded at Owino’s Garage on the Southern Bypass in Kikuyu town. It had been brought in at 9am the previous day and its owner, a tall dark man whom we have been told is a regular at the garage wanted it painted black.

“He even brought his own paint,” one of the mechanics at the garage told the Sunday Nation.

Apart from a new paint job, the owner of the vehicle wanted its entertainment system ripped off and a new one installed. He wanted a new radio, sub-woofers and TV monitors to the tune of almost Sh200,000. This job was given to True Quality Sound Systems, which is also on the Southern Bypass.

“He called my husband in the morning giving the specifications of what he wanted. I even saw him at the shop but I did not give him a lot of thought,” said Naomi Mwikali, who co-owns True Quality Sound Systems with her husband, Mr Patrick Kagaba.

“Up to now we don’t even know where Patrick was taken to and the police don’t want to tell us which police station he is in,” said Ms Mwikali as she held onto their two-month old baby.

However, by Friday morning, slightly over 24 hours after the Toyota Noah was brought in for a new paint job at Owino’s Garage, the vehicle was at True Quality Sound Systems to get its brand new entertainment system. This is where detectives found it.

SCRAMBLED EGGS

Mr Kagaba and Moses Odhiambo who had the previous day worked on the vehicle at Owino’s garage were taken into custody. Mr Kagaba is also a gospel artiste also known as Kamlesh Kagaba.

And on interrogation and through the phone records of the two, detectives turned their trail to the person who brought the car. It turned out he was a police officer.

“He was found with some bullets in his house. We still need to find out which other houses the suspects may have visited,” Musa Yego, the Flying Squad Commandant, told the Sunday Nation.

Additionally, we have also established that a man who we now believe could be connected to the robbery was at the garage to check out on the progress of the vehicle at 9am on Friday just a few hours before SCPU detectives came knocking.

CCTV footage from Mugumo Park Hotel, which is within the vicinity, showed the suspect checking in at 9.29am accompanied with a woman. The man wore a green cap, blue trench coat and jeans while the woman was in a red jumper and blue jeans. Both of them had tea, chapati and scrambled eggs, served at 9:53pm. Mechanics from the garage where the Toyota Noah was impounded told the Sunday Nation that the man in the video is the same one who was at the garage. Mr Yego has said detectives would be dispatched to the hotel to view the footage.

On Friday, Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku allowed the DCI to hold Musa Rajab, Abraham Mwangi Njoroge, Ascar Kemunto, Wilfred Nyambane, Nathan Njiru and Danmark Magembe for a week to allow for the conclusion of investigations.

SEVEN DAYS

The police had asked the court to detain the suspects for 10 days but the magistrate argued that it was too long. And while pointing out that the six could be victims of circumstances, the magistrate said it is important that the suspects are detained as investigations continue.

“It is common ground that all parties herein want conclusive investigations to be done, what is to be determined is the period in which these persons are to be detained and I find that seven days is sufficient time,” said the magistrate.

But even as investigations continue, the location of the rest of the money, which has still not yet been recovered, is still a mystery. It has also not been established if the six G4S employees who were arrested had any role to do with the heist.

Apart from the Sh7 million recovered Saturday from the two suspects, none of the nine suspects arrested on Thursday and Friday had money linked to the heist on them. This could mean that there could be more suspects out there.

MASTERMINDS

A police officer aware of the investigations said there is high possibility that the increasing number heists targeting banks are being masterminded by one sophisticated cartel that is also linked to the fake gold and currency trade. Banks have lost at least Sh500 million in the past three years through such robberies. Their only saving grace is that cash in transit is usually insured but unless the robberies reduce, insurers could be forced to increase their premiums.

An emerging challenge for detectives pursuing such complicated crimes, unlike armed bank robberies, which are almost becoming a thing of the past, is that those involved are so many that it is almost impossible to nail all of them.

Just three weeks ago, Chief Magistrate Elizabeth Juma acquitted almost all the suspects who were charged with theft of Sh80 million from Co-operative Bank in almost a similar heist eight years ago. Out of 14 suspects who were charged with the offence, only one was convicted and it is because he was found with money whose serial numbers matched the stolen cash.

While acquitting five former Co-op Bank employees who were charged as being part of the heist, the magistrate said there was no evidence to convict them of conspiracy to steal the cash.

“There is no evidence to demonstrate that the accused persons were in communication or interaction to plan to commit the offence, a charge of conspiracy could not be proven and they are accordingly acquitted of all charges,” ruled the magistrate, Elizabeth Juma.

The court also found gaps in the prosecution’s evidence, saying other people who could have been involved in the theft were not charged.