A slick and brazen heist at the docking area of the Piarco International Airport yesterday resulted in bandits making off with $5 million dollars belonging to the First Citizen’s Bank. The money was intended to be transferred to the bank’s Tobago branches.
The incident happened just before noon when four masked men, heavily armed and dressed in camouflage outfits, slipped into the restricted area.
By the time police were able to respond, the crooks were long gone. The Toyota Hilux van used by the bandits was found abandoned in a Housing Development Corporation development at Oropune Gardens. There has been no sign of the men or the money.
The bandits harmed no-one, but managed to carry out the crime within an hour. Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that they may have been assisted by someone from within either the airport or the security companies tasked with guarding the money.
A source told Newsday, just before 11.25 am yesterday an Amalgamated Security vehicle transported the cash to the cargo area of the airport in carrier containers. The cash was handed over to Caribbean Airlines security officers for transfer to Tobago. None of the security personnel were armed since firearms are prohibited in that section of the airport.
Newsday was told Caribbean Airlines security officers carried the money towards the plane in a baggage cart, but were turned back because the authorisation paperwork was outdated. The money was taken back to the docking area where the gunmen executed their plan. They ordered the security personnel to lie on the ground while they took the containers with the money and packed it into their van which was parked nearby. They then escaped.
Acting Snr Supt Ajith Persad, Acting ACP Radcliffe Boxhill and ASP Rawle Ramdeo with other officers responded to a report and went to the airport. They soon received information that the getaway van had been abandoned in a parking lot at the housing development.
FCB and the Airports Authority issued statements to the media, confirming the robbery. The Airports Authority simply said police are investigating the matter, while FCB Group CEO Karen Darbasie expressed concern over the rising rate of crime.
“The incidents of crime appears to be on the rise, and has indeed reached alarming levels,” she said.
“Too often now we are seeing, what appears to be, planned and organised criminal activity targeting businesses, including banks. This last incident seems to be no exception. This calls for greater vigilance on the part of businesses, the TTPS and all stakeholders. First Citizens is taking further steps to ensure the safety of our people, our customers and their assets, under the circumstances and in this current environment.” Newsday sought to get a comment from Caribbean Airlines through its head of corporate communications Dionne Ligoure. She said: “The Airports Authority issued a statement.”
This was not the first time that banks, and in particular FCB, have been targeted. In September, bandits cut a hole on the side of the FCB Montrose branch then cut open a vault and escaped with over $3.5 million. On November 27, 2013 a Sentinel Security Services Ltd cash delivery van was ambushed by bandits, on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, who made off with more than $7 million.
That money was being taken to the airport for transfer to the bank’s Tobago branches. Estate superintendent Bert Clarke, a security guard with the company, was shot dead during the incident. Neither the gunmen nor the money have been found.
Sentinel, in August 2015, was ordered by High Court judge Justice Carol Gobin to compensate FCB to the sum of $7.193 million plus the bank’s legal costs after FCB filed a lawsuit.
In its’ defence, Sentinel acknowledged it was transporting the money but argued that there was a robbery in transit to Piarco. And, because of that robbery, the company could not be deemed to have deprived the bank of possession of the money. The latest incident generated comments from social media users who surmised the robbery was an “inside job”.
One person wrote: “This is happening too continuously to FCB. Deep investigation is needed because this is clearly an inside job. Another shared the sentiment, adding, “No ordinary people would know when, where and how that cash moving, ent? Screen your employees FCB.”
Others even sought to make light of the incident. “Aye anyone of these bandits know me? I could do with some cash. On a serious note this was an inside job.”
UPDATE, 3:12 pm:
An abandoned black Toyota Hilux believed to be involved in the Piarco Airport robbery was found on Oropune Boulevard shortly before 3 p.m.
— T&T Newsday (@Newsday_TT) December 6, 2017
Police officers at the scene picked up the car for towing.
— T&T Newsday (@Newsday_TT) December 6, 2017
Piarco Airport security officers are working with police after a brazen daylight robbery at the airport just after midday.
Newsday was told that the bandits made off with about $5 million in cash.
Three men in camouflage uniforms and masks entered the cargo area driving an SUV and intercepted a cargo cart which was heading into the port.
The men ambushed security personnel, made them lie on the ground and made off with the contents of the cart.
Stay with Newsday for more updates.