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 Post subject: “How to Rob a Bank”
 Post Posted: Sun Jun 07, 2009 2:08 pm 
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“How to Rob a Bank”

By Gayan Kumara Weerasingha
Source: LBN / 07June2009


The robbery at the Union Bank Wellawatta where the robbers got away with over Rs13 million in cash goes down in Sri Lankan history as the bank robbery in which the largest amount of money was stolen. The man who planned the operation is a logistics officer of Union Bank. The plan was then carried out by two others - an army captain who is the son of a retired DIG police, and a businessman who owns buses. Police were able to solve the case within a short period of time. The suspects had planned the entire robbery and executed it after watching a movie titled “How to Rob a Bank.”

The Union Bank Wellawatta branch is situated on the ground floor of a three storey building around 500m from the Wellwatta police station. The date was April 24th; the time around 7.15 am. Only the security guard who had been on duty during the previous night was present. The cleaning woman is usually the first employee who enters the bank as she needed time to do her work before the other employees arrived. She arrived at around 7.16 am. The security guard had let her in and then locked the door. Less than 5 minutes after the cleaning woman had entered, the security guard received a telephone call. The caller stated that he was from the head office and informed the security guard that two persons were being sent to repair the ATM machine. He was instructed to let them in as soon as they arrived.

No cause to be suspicious

As the bank’s ATM machine had broken down the previous night and this had been notified to the head office the guard had no cause to be suspicious. Around 7.20 am two persons arrived. One was a thin, fair person who wore a tie and a long sleeved shirt, while the other was a tanned, well built individual dressed casually. They stood outside the bank’s door and tapped on the glass. When the security guard arrived at the door, the two men showed him two identity cards with the logo of Union Bank, identifying them as bank employees. The man with the tie told the guard that they had been sent by the bank’s head office to repair the ATM and requested that they be shown the location of the bank’s data base. The computer system which gave access to the data base was located at the back of the branch and the bank’s safe was also at a room located close by. As they approached the location of the computer data base, the two had suddenly pulled out two small guns and threatened the security guard with death unless he did exactly as they said. The cleaning woman seeing the two level weapons at the guard had involuntarily cried out. One of the men had then levelled his gun at the woman and ordered her to be quiet and come to where the security guard was. After she complied, one of the men pulled out a roll of tape and bound both the guard and the woman. The robbers had also used a plastic cord in addition to the tape to make the bonds more secure and then locked them inside the room where the safe was. The robbers then proceeded to disable the bank’s video camera system. They removed the video recorder of the camera system which recorded their images and stuffed it inside their travelling bag. Meanwhile, one of the bank employees arrived and tapped on the glass of the bank’s main door. He waited for the security guard to open the door and let him in as usual.

However, the door was opened not by the security guard, but by the bank robber in tie. He waited for the employee to enter the bank and locked the door behind him. This employee was also bound and gagged and put in the same room as the other two.
12 employees of the bank fell into the hands of the robbers in this manner including the bank’s manageress. No one outside the bank noticed anything unusual since there was still time to go before the bank opened its doors for business. The robbers also took care to take away the mobile phones of all employees who fell into their hands. These phones were put in a box which was thrown away to a corner of the bank. The robbers wore rubber gloves, making sure they didn’t leave any fingerprints behind for the police.
By then, it was around 8.30 am. All employees at the bank were by now in the custody of the robbers. Four of the people were audit officers and were not involved in the day-to-day activities of the bank. All the employees were kept in the room where the safe was. The robbers identified the bank manageress, removed the tape which had been used to gag her and started questioning her. They brought up an extremely personal matter concerning her to show her that they knew a lot about her. “The safe opens at 8.45, right?” they asked the manageress. The bank’s safe was constructed in such a way that it only opened at a specific time. Even so, two keys were needed to open it. These two keys were in the possession of two senior female employees of the bank and the robbers knew who they were. They addressed them by name and asked them whether it wasn’t them who had the keys to the safe.

Around 8.45 am the robbers took the manageress and the two female employees who had the keys and made them stand near the safe, removed their bonds and ordered them to open the safe. The bank manageress decided to open the safe, as both her life and those of her employees were at the mercy of the robbers. She typed in the code number and completed the initial work to open the safe. Then, the two female employees used their keys to open the locks on the safe. The eyes of the robbers were drawn to the cash and Jewellery inside the safe. But they did not make a grab at them. “We only want the money. We will not take the gold Jewellery. They belong to poor people who pawned them because they had no money” they said to the bank manageress. The manageress and the other two employees were then tied up. Around 9.10 am the robbers calmly walked out of the bank and drove away in the bank manageress vehicle with the cash.
Wellawatta police were informed of the robbery 10 minutes after the robbers had made their getaway.

Random checkpoints

A police team arrived to conduct investigations. They informed police stations around Colombo to set up random checkpoints to arrest the suspects fleeing in the bank manageress’s vehicle. However, when the police found the vehicle about an hour later, it had already been abandoned. Since the entire robbery was meticulously planned and executed, police had practically no evidence to go on. They couldn’t lift a single fingerprint from either the bank or the abandoned vehicle. In light of this, police found it extremely difficult to trace the suspects. The police team reached the conclusion that the robbery had help from someone inside the bank. Police traced the phone call the security guard received to a phone box in Pamankada and had to give up the idea of trying to find the culprits through this call.

Some days after the robbery, OIC Mangala Dehideniya, OIC of the crimes division Inspector Samarasekera and Sub Inspector Sriyantha went to the Union Bank head office along Duplication Road to interview the bank’s board of directors. As the police team was leaving after the interviews, they were approached by a man who turned out to be a logistics officer of Union Bank. The individual was serving at the bank’s branch in Nugegoda. He made friends with the police and asked them for information about the Wellawatta robbery. OIC Mangala Dehideniya’s suspicions were aroused by this individual, who seemed to be showing far more interest in the robbery than even the bank’s board of directors. He took care not to show his suspicions but appeared to be friendlier with the man. The OIC directed his officers to search for details about this bank employee.
Police found that this man had been found guilty of fraud while working earlier at another bank. It also emerged that he seemed to be spending far more money than he earned.
After extensive surveillance on the suspect for a period of 8 days investigators found that the man was separated from his wife and was living in a rented luxury house in Madiwela and frequented nightclubs. They then looked into the persons who associated with this him.

The police team arrested the bank employee at his house in Madiwela. He turned out to be the main planner of the robbery. They then arrested the man identified as the robbery’s mastermind - the person who entered the bank wearing a tie. This person is the son of a retired DIG and is also an army captain who has left the service. He was arrested at ward No 72 of the Colombo National Hospital while he was undergoing treatment. He had been injured in an accident in the Hambegamuwa area in Thanamalvila. It emerged later that the accident had occurred while he was touring the Udawalawa area using the brand new motorbike he had bought using his share of the stolen money. ASP Nuwan Wedasinghe of the Colombo Crimes Division led the team which arrested the suspect at the hospital. The final suspect taken into police custody was the other man who took part in the bank robbery along with the retired DIG’s son. This suspect was arrested in Kundasale, Kandy. He is a businessman who owns buses, but had taken part in the robbery on account of his friendship with the bank employee.
In addition to arresting all the suspects, police were also able to recover over Rs.10 million of the stolen money.


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