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The untold story of Kenya’s great bank heist that never came to be

BUSINESS
By Kamau Muthoni | December 5th 2021
By Kamau Muthoni | December 5th 2021
BUSINESS

Barclays Bank branch, Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi. March 2016. [Reuters]

All that was required of Barclays Bank’s security guard was to hand in banking hall keys, keep it a secret and on the day robbers were to carry out what would have been Kenya’s biggest money heist, put on a shocked face just like other employees.

If all had gone well, his compliance was to be rewarded with part of the looted money.

The idea started like when two teens share a puff of cigarette. They had planned to walk out of Barclays Bank of Kenya, now Absa, with a staggering Sh120 million without firing a single shot.

It was a fast encounter on the first day: the guard got curious about an idea proposed by a stranger who posed as a customer, got excited and finally gave in.

As the deal offered was too sweet to resist and risky, it needed more insiders. The unnamed guard, therefore, roped in a second guard who was on the night shift.

He was to learn later that a cleaner, teller, retail support staff and a former employee - who confessed in the robbery planning meeting that he was involved in another heist where Sh34 million vanished at Barclays Bank’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) branch — were also in the heinous plot.

The revelation on how the robbery was planned and was to be executed, including a mock exercise, is contained in a court battle between Barclays Bank and its former teller, Michael Njoroge.

Mr Njoroge was fired following a foiled exercise that targeted Absa’s Nakuru East branch. The robbers expected the money they were after to be repatriated from Nakuru West, Nyahururu and Kericho.

The teller sued, claiming unfair dismissal after he was acquitted of the robbery charge by the magistrate’s court.

On October 11, 2012, a guard attached to the bank was approached by a customer and asked whether he was willing to assist in an exercise they were to embark on.

The two exchanged mobile numbers and arranged a further meeting the following day.

Cash-in-transit lobby

The second meeting happened at Midland Hotel, Nakuru, and this time the purported customer was accompanied by another man and two women.

They gave him the details of their mission, and the role he was to play was to help the four access the bank through the cash-in-transit lobby.

A further meeting was arranged on October 13, where the gang asked the guard to recruit his colleague who was to man the bank during the night. He roped in the other guard, and they were given new cell phones for ease of communication.

Six days later, Employment and Labour Relations Court judge Maureen Onyango heard, the gang held a fourth meeting to introduce the guards to other syndicate members.

Court documents say the others introduced were a cleaner, Mohammed Jaffer, retail support staffer James Gitau and Njoroge.

There was also Barclay’s former employee Jimmy Kamande, who in the meeting confessed that he had a hand in some Sh34 million vanishing at the JKIA’s branch. Luckily for him, he said, the bank did not know the robbery was an inside job and he was transferred to Nakuru East Branch.

Perhaps Mr Kamande had made enough from the first loot as he resigned following the transfer. And now he wanted to have his fingers in the cookie jar a second time.

According to the plan, the robbery was to happen on the eve of Mashujaa Day. However, the plan changed as the bank had postponed the repatriation of the cash.

The team held a brief meeting on October 20 and the gang was given five keys — one for the main door, another for man trap doors grill, one for the wooden door and two for the cash counting area door.

They were to test them and confirm whether all could open the doors successfully.

Meanwhile, the gang had carried out mock robberies, the last one on October 20. Little did they know that with them was a police informer who continuously briefed the officers on what was happening.

On the night of October 22, 2012, the robbers stormed the Nakuru East branch. Although they had prepped for a bloodless walk out, they were also armed for the worst.

The police had also camped there, waiting to ambush and get them alive or dead.

Three were gunned down and 30ATM cards and a Sh11,500,000 deposit slip were recovered. Two vehicles with registration numbers KBR 156T and KBM 775H were also impounded.

It is the informer’s leak that the bank used to kick out Njoroge.

Justice Onyango, while dismissing Njoroge’s case in a ruling on November 11, 2021, found that the bank had every reason to fire its former employer.

“From the foregoing, I find that the claimant has not proved that the termination of his employment was unfair,” said the judge. 

“He has further not proved that the prosecution was malicious.”

She said that in view of the fact that a bank handles lots of money which belongs to its clients, a higher level of integrity is demanded of bank employees.

“A bank cannot be expected to leave in its employment any staff whose integrity it doubts on valid and reasonable grounds,” Onyango said. 

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