Seven years ago on January 15, 2007 in the evening, Kampala witnessed one of the bizarre robberies to ever grace the city when three heavily armed robbers entered Stanbic Bank IPS building branch and made off with Shs702.4 million.
Without firing a shot, the three armed robbers disguised as workers for Stanbic Bank entered the bank through a concealed back door straight to the strong room.
Dressed in Stanbic Corporate T-shirts and the bank’s identification tags and with guns inside their two black bags, the robbers were led by Joseph Bwire, a Customer Information Consultant, and beat security that even the guard from G4S who was on duty that evening did not question.
The gang left the guard thinking that they were going to repair bank computers inside the bank.
Taking advantage of few remaining staff, they quickly put them at gun-point and herded them into one room. One of the robbers picked the custodian to the strong room and loaded Shs592 million and $60,800 into the bags before heading out.
With guns pointed at him, the guard fled, leaving the robbers to vanish in a waiting car without any challenge.
Without firing a shot the robbers walked out of the bank about ten minutes later entered their car and drove off.
An insider in the bank interfered with the bank’s phones rendering them useless for any bank staff to call out during or after the robbery.
Unknown to the robbers is that they had been sighted by policemen working in the office of the Inspectorate of Government – IGG’s office on IPS building. They radioed the Kampala Central Police Station – CPS who quickly raised officers on a police patrol and other officers from the Violent Crime Crack Unit - VCCU.
The officers in their civilian clothes arrived in the bank just in time when the robbery was still taking place. However, the robbers were so smart that even when the VCCU operatives asked the tellers whether they had been robbed, none of the tellers knew there was a robbery taking place in the bank.
The VCCU operatives walked out and moved off and went to their base in Kireka leaving the daring robbers to make off with their loot.
At about 6pm the Inspector General of Police , Gen Kale Kayihura, called VCCU, reporting a robbery at Stanbic Bank IPS branch, but was told there had been no robbery since VCCU operatives had earlier checked out the place.
Later at 7pm Gen Kayihura called VCCU, confirming there had indeed been a robbery at the bank IPS.
The robbery threw the entire police force into panic since gangsters had been threatening to stage a mega robbery which they described as a ‘mother of all robberies’ to avenge the killings of their robber friends by VCCU.
Since there had been no information that there was a planned robbery to warrant a deployment, police was only left with a game of chance in their bid to find the robbers and recover the loot.
On the evening of January 15, 2007, police officers headed by then DPC CPS, Ivan Nkwasibwe, went to the bank branch to start investigations and arrested some staff members. A case of aggravated robbery was opened.
Among those arrested was the Branch manager. Ms Jennifer Wanyama, the Needs Services Manager, Mr James Ssempebwa, and the Customer Information Coordinator, Mr Joseph Bwire.
Others arrested were Hanifah Nakanjako, a teller, Deborah Rwomusharo, the assets custodian, Madinah Namugabo, and Robert Kakooza, a cleaner. Justin Olwo, a security guard at G4S, was two days later arrested as he reported for duty.
Wanyama, Nakanjako, Rwomusharo and Sempebwa were allegedly in charge of the strong-room at the time the robbery took place.
On the morning of January 16, 2007, Nkwasibwe returned to the bank to assess and establish how much money had been robbed, however he was surprised to find VCCU detectives inside the bank also getting a glimpse of how the robbery had taken place.
As the detectives from VCCU were nosing near the vault and seeing staff explain how they had been taken by surprise, Stanbic Bank Managing Director Kitili Mbathi called one of the managers at the bank, urging him not to let VCCU operatives take the bank staff to their headquarters in Kireka. His fear was that they would be tortured because they were allegedly notorious for the same.
Left with no clues to find the robbers, one thing was clear; there had been an insider in the whole robbery racket. This insider had provided the robbers with the bank’s corporate T-shirts, the insider had even alerted the robbers on a back door which was about waist-high that was only accessed by staff after squeezing through file cabins.
VCCU operatives returned to their base in Kireka now with a determination to find the bank employees who had facilitated the robbery.
An order was given to move the bank staff who had been arrested and detained at CPS Kampala to Kireka, a move that was resisted by DPC Nkwasibwe but when he too was threatened with arrest he gave in and let the suspects be taken.
Ms Wanyama was freed on police bond but Ssempebwa, Bwire and Kakooza were moved to Kireka.
And after interrogation and using phone print outs, Bwire confessed to being party to the robbery. He named a soldier, Daniel Mangeni, as an accomplice in the robbery.
After the confession, VCCU operatives working stealthily managed to track down Mangeni and arrested him. They also arrested two other army privates - Livingstone Jafari and Israel Bwire. VCCU was also later to arrest Godfrey Samanya, the man who drove the get-away car.
How did they acquire the guns?
The January 15, 2007, robbery took place on the evening of the day former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano concluded his visit to Uganda.
Chissano had been appointed a UN Special Envoy for Uganda to help boost peace talks between Ugandan government and rebels of the LRA in a bid to end the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda.
Talks between the government and Joseph Kony-led rebels had begun in July 2006, but progress hadbeen slow, which prompted a visit from Chissano.
The three soldiers-turned robbers had been part of Chissano’s escort detail and after taking him to Entebbe International airport, they proceeded on their robbery mission.
Armed with high calibre assault rifles and enough ammunition, the robbers felt they would put off any resistance from any pursuing police officers but by luck nobody showed up.
The robbers made off with their loot, leaving police to follow and catch them two weeks later.
VCCU recovers money
After Bwire’s confession, police proceeded to Busia and recovered Shs70 million in denominations of Shs20,000 that Bwire had concealed in a dug-out hole in his father’s compound.
Police also recovered $400. More money was later recovered from Mangeni’s home in Iganga.
VCCU also recovered Shs40 million from Godfrey Samanya, the driver of the getaway car, Shs24.5 million from Livingstone Jafari and Shs20 million from Daniel Mangeni.
And at the end of it all police had recovered Shs154 million. However, the whereabouts of a balance of Shs548 million is still a mystery.
President Museveni surprised
After the arrest of the soldiers, VCCU kept them as a secret, not even letting it leak to journalists who were nosing over the story.
However, unknown to VCCU, President Museveni got to know that VCCU had arrested soldiers and were being kept at their Kireka headquarters. He was surprised that VCCU operatives could arrest these soldiers without being detected by anybody.
In the General Court Martial
Mangeni, Bwire, Samanya and Jafari were charged with aggravated robbery in the General Court Martial following President Museveni’s directive to charge all people found with guns before the army court.
However, the trial was affected by a Constitutional Court directive not to charge civilians before the General Court Martial, following a petition by Col Kiiza Besigye. The ruling left the court martial with no option but to refer the case to the High Court in Kampala since among them were civilians. However, none of the members of the gang returned to the High Court after they were granted bail.
The group resume robbing
This group resumed robbing especially in eastern Uganda. Early last month, Mangeni, a well-trained soldier, was again arrested by members of the Police Flying squad at the Owen Falls Dam in Jinja while proceeding on a robbery mission.
The Flying Squad considers Mangeni to be highly dangerous since he is named in a series of robberies. And since he has a military background, they believe he can always get guns and resume robberies when an opportunity strikes.
January 23, 2007. Police cited conspiracy in the robbery at Stanbic Bank IPS Branch on Parliament Avenue in Kampala.
Kampala Extra Regional Criminal Investigations Officer, Mohammad Atepo, said preliminary investigations show that some Bank staff connived with the robbers.
Police said the robbers were led to the Bank’s strong room by a staff member, who was arrested. The robbers claimed they were IT experts who had come to repair the computers.
October 3, 2012. A private security guard robbed Shs40 million from a client of Barclays Bank in Kasese in 2012. The client withdrew Shs180 million from Standard Chartered Bank, Mbarara branch, to pay coffee dealers in Kasese but he reached late and decided to bank the money in Barclays Bank, Kasese Branch. On reaching the entrance of the bank, the security guard searched him as a normal procedure. When the guard realised that he had money he demanded to know what he was carrying, the client informed him that it was money and he had come to bank it. The security guard then put him on gun point and pushed him up to the counter; he removed money from him and took off.
Bank of Africa
October 29, 2013. A group of suspected robbers in alleged connivance with two security guards broke into Bank of Africa, Kawempe Branch, stealing about Shs400 million.
The robbery, believed to have occurred in the wee hours of the morning, was only noticed by the bank manager when he reported to work only to find the door locks loose and the safe box broken into.
The two security guards had also disappeared.
According to the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Mr Ibin Ssenkumbi, the robbers, whom police trailed, were identified as; Musa Abubakali, Francis Kakooza and Mohammed Lukwago all residents of Kawempe.