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Tuesday, January 8, 2008
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Robbers tunnel to bank locker

Rented hotel room above Brac Bank for one month to perform heist

A policeman looks at the hole in the floor above Brac Bank Dhanmondi branch through which the robbers entered and swept clean 75 lockers of the bank.Photo: STAR

Robbers made off with gold ornaments and other valuables, primarily estimated at several crores of taka, breaking open 75 safe deposit lockers in the Dhanmondi branch of BRAC Bank Ltd in the capital during the last weekend.

Police said the robbers entered the locker room cutting through its ceiling, as they found a large hole cut through the floor of a hotel room right above the locker room.

The branch of Brac Bank is situated on the first floor of a building which houses Hotel Nidmahal Residential right above the bank.

Police suspect the robbers rented six rooms of the hotel and entered the bank's locker room through the hole on the floor of the room right above it. They also suspect the robbers stayed in the hotel for more than a month to plan the heist.

Bank officials said 75 lockers out of a total of 132 were found broken, 15 of which were not in use at the time of the heist. But they could not immediately determine the exact value of the heist.

Even many locker renters could not immediately say the value of the gold they had deposited in their

lockers. Some of them said they even kept ornaments of their relatives in the lockers.

The bank officials also said the robbers did not however steal any passport, savings certificate, or any other document from the lockers.

Police detained four Nidmahal staff on Sunday for interrogation, suspecting their involvement in the heist. Police also said they are intensively interrogating the detainees Shah Alam, 30, Supon Barua, 20, Sujan, 18, and Monir, 18, but have yet to get any lead from them.

Renters of the lockers came to know about the incident yesterday morning and started rushing to the bank immediately. They were seen bursting out in anger, as in their words, the Bank management is trying to shrug off its liability for the stolen materials. Some of the renters were seen very dejected while some were even in tears.

Wasim Chowdhury, a staff of hotel Nidmahal, housed on the second, third and the fourth floors of the building, said three persons aged between 40 and 45 rented a room on the third floor on December 1. A day later they shifted to the second floor renting two rooms there right above the locker room of the bank.

The three registered themselves as Salam, Abdul and Jalal at the front desk and mentioned that they were from Hathazari in Chittagong.

Police suspect before the final heist, other members of the gang rented four other adjacent rooms on the second floor to create a buffer zone for the noise of cutting through the floor. Police recovered a packet of a hand drill from the hotel room containing the hole on the floor.

Wasim also said detained Sujon, who works as a janitor in the hotel, told him that the suspects used to keep at all times something on the spot of the floor where the hole is now, and never allowed him to clean that spot saying they themselves would clean the spot later.

After the heist had been detected the hotel staff found a box of around two feet by two feet covering the hole.

Around 6:00am on Sunday the three suspects left the hotel with the stolen goods, said the frond desk clerk of the hotel.

Law enforcers recovered a receipt of sales for the hand drill suggesting that the thieves had bought it from a shop at Nababpur in the old part of the capital. They also recovered some gold ornaments and paper documents from the hotel room above the lockers.

Officials of the bank suspect the heist might have taken place sometime between the midnights of Thursday and Saturday.

Abedur Rahman Sikder, head of marketing and corporate affairs of BRAC Bank Ltd, said they came to know about the heist on Sunday after the bank had opened.

He said one of their staff found out the heist when he entered the locker room on Sunday morning after a renter had gone to the bank to access her locker.

He then informed the management, who soon informed the law enforcers.

"We then informed the law enforcers about the burglary who later visited the bank collecting finger prints and other evidence," Abedur told The Daily Star.

He said, "As per the terms and conditions signed between the clients and the bank, the bank is not liable for stolen goods." He however said, "The bank's top management will take the final decision regarding the matter."

Section 8 of the terms and conditions the clients had signed, reads, "The Bank will not be held liable or responsible for any loss or damage to any article, document, or valuables deposited in the locker as a result of theft, robbery, fire or any other incident or pilferage."

"We kept the valuables deposited in the bank and for that we pay the bank, so it must be liable," said an affected locker renter.

Although the bank management claimed that they informed most of the renters over the phone about the incident on Sunday night and sent letters to all of them through a courier service, most of the renters gathered at the bank yesterday said venting their anger that they neither got any phone call nor did they receive any letter until noon yesterday.

Rezwana Khukumoni, an affected locker renter, said when she went to the bank around 10:15am on Sunday to access her locker, a bank staff who was accompanying her first entered the locker room, soon to come out of the room saying she would not be able to go inside due to some problems in the room.

She said she later suspected something had gone very wrong as she saw police and Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) personnel at the bank when she was returning home that night in the same neighbourhood.

Another affected renter, Farhana Kabir, said she had deposited 99 tolas of gold ornaments in her locker which are now gone.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Naim Ahmed said last night that they had yet to detect the robbers. "We are working on it seriously," he said.

Officer-in-Charge of Mohammadpur Police Shibly Noman said last night that they were trying to get details on the suspects from the four detainees. He also expressed hope that they will be able to detect and arrest the thieves.

BRAC BANK'S STATEMENT
It has been discovered that some unknown persons unlawfully entered the safe deposit locker facilities of the Dhanmondi branch of BRAC Bank Ltd and stole the contents of a number of lockers during the weekend holidays.

The matter was promptly communicated to the law enforcement agencies by the bank and in this regard a case has been filed on January 6, 2008 with Mohammadpur police station.

Police have initiated investigations as well as an all out effort to locate the perpetrators of this crime and to establish the whereabouts of the stolen locker contents.

The affected locker holders of the bank have been informed of the incident and have been advised to provide all possible assistance to Mohammadpur police in connection with the ongoing investigations.

BRAC Bank will continue to make every endeavour to keep the concerned locker holders informed on all developments in this regard.

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