Bullion van Shs2b robberies that shook the banking industry

All set, the group divided the money, with each loading his share inside his travelling bag and moved on. ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALEX KWIZERA

What you need to know:

In 2005, two bullion van hard cash robberies in eastern Uganda– one at the beginning of the year and the other in December has kept detectives busy on the case up to now. Sunday Monitor delves into the incidences and relays how the crimes were executed.

In 2005, two robberies of close to Shs2 billion in cash from bullion vans shook Stanbic Bank and the entire banking industry, raising many questions about the security and safety of cash in transit.

The two incidents – one at the beginning of the year, in February, and the other at the end, in December – happened in eastern Uganda and involved Shs702 million and Shs1.2 billion in hard cash respectively.

In the first incident, money was being transported from the Stanbic Bank’s eastern region headquarters branch in Mbale to the bank’s Pallisa and Iganga District branches.
Pallisa town is about 30km from Mbale town while Iganga town is about 100km away.

On that morning, February 8, 2005, two Securicor Gray vehicles (Group 4 Securicor) left Mbale with the cash and six guards. One vehicle was headed to Pallisa and the other to Iganga. The Pallisa-destined vehicle arrived safely on time and delivered the money. But something went terribly wrong with the Iganga-bound vehicle.

The robbery
The man in charge of the Iganga cash transit operation was a one Oswama, the van commander. Oswama was a former soldier and operative of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Unit (JATT) of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence in Kampala. The other two occupants of the bullion van were the driver, Joseph Ogoola and a one Mugisa, a guard. Mugisa had been locked inside the bullion van with the money, while Oswama sat in the co-driver’s seat next to Ogoola.

Both Oswama and Ogoola hailed from Tororo, while Mugisa was from Fort Portal.
Unknown to Mugisa, when the duo reached Tirinyi-Tororo road junction at Nakalama, they diverted the van eastwards to Tororo, instead of westwards to Iganga town, which is barely 5km from the junction.

Ogoola and Mugisa had not originally been part of the plan but with the smell of money in the cabin and images of instant wealth flashing in their minds, it was easy for Oswama to recruit them into his scheme. In Tororo, it was easy for the trio to find their way as this was Ogoola’s home turf. They headed into the villages of West Budama to Nagongera, 30km from Tororo town.

When they reached Nagongera, they bought travelling bags that they would use to conceal and transport their loot. All set, the group divided the money with each loading his share in his travelling bag and moved on.

They removed their uniforms and abandoned the vehicle together with the guns and stealthily moved off without being detected by villagers. The trio also left behind bags of coins fearing that because of their bulky nature, they would slow their movement.
After stealing the money, Oswama stealthily found his way to Kampala where he, within days, bought a Mitsubishi Canter truck, and in the same period also bought plots of land in Mbale town.

News of the missing bullion van soon spread through Mbale town after the bank detected that after close to five hours, the bullion van that had been dispatched from Mbale to Iganga had not reached. The Rapid Response Unit (RRU) of police mobilised their personnel in Mbale for a pursuit but it came too late because the trio had already gotten away.

Immediately after the robbery, Ogoola fled to the Kenyan capital Nairobi. After lying low for weeks and tired of the torture his relatives were suffering, Ogoola handed himself over to police at Mbale Central Police Station. The RRU operatives picked Joseph Ogoola from Mbale police station cells where he had been detained and they headed to Tororo.

While in Tororo, RRU operatives then used Ogoola to call Oswama, who was in hiding. When Oswama came out from his hiding in Nagongera, he too was arrested. Oswama then led police to Mbale from where they recovered his truck and two land titles of land he had bought in Mbale.

Mugisa escapes
However, the operatives were not as successful in netting Mugisa, who ran with his loot to Fort Portal and possibly hid in the mountains. To date, he has never been found.
Oswama and Ogoola were later charged before the General Court Martial for theft of money they had been entrusted with.

The matter is still before the court martial. The two are out on bail. It is unclear whether any of the stolen money was recovered or not.

The kumi robbery

Several months later on December 12, 2005, another group of Securicor Gray guards made off with Shs1.2 billion that was being transported from Mbale to Moroto.
The entire robbery was organised by Johnson Akol, the bullion van commander, and two other guards – Ura Arch Angelo and Moses Okello.

Apparently, the bullion van, a Toyota Hilux reg. no. UAE 694L, and an escort vehicle, a Toyota Hilux escort vehicle reg. no. UAE 138T, left Mbale for Kotido via Moroto at 11:30am.
However, 2km out of Mbale town on the Soroti road, the escort van with four guards branched into Sarope fuel filling station to repair a faulty tyre. The bullion van did not stop, it just continued at break-neck speed. After fixing the tyre, the escort car tried to give chase to the bullion van but gave up after about 40km out of Kumi and abandoned the idea near Awoja Bridge.

After failing to find the bullion van, they drove back 40km to Kumi and reported the case at Kumi police station. All the four guards on the escort vehicle were locked up at Kumi Police Station on suspicion that they were involved in the plot.

When news of the disappearance of the bullion van with its three occupants reached the police in Mbale, the police in all the eastern towns of Mbale, Kumi, and Moroto were put on alert to hunt for the missing bullion van. However, unlike in the earlier incident in Iganga where police allied with RRU operatives to pursue the robbers, this time round, probably driven by selfish interests, the police decided to go it alone.

The first information received by the police was that the bullion van had been ambushed by gunmen on the Mbale-Kumi road and all the money stolen from it. But the empty van did not bear any marks of a shoot-out as it was found intact, save for the mission money.

Apparently, when the trio reached about 10 kilometres outside Mbale at Kachumbala, they diverted the bullion van and drove through Kidongole village to Aaca in Kogili parish. On reaching Kanyumu, they abandoned the vehicle and fled into the bush carrying yellow bags.
Police, with the help of Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology, soon found the abandoned bullion van, which they towed to Kumi Police Station.

Two suspects killed
Villagers informed the police the group had fled into the thickets. Police went in hot pursuit and cornered the three in a thicket somewhere in Kanyumu Sub-county where they had fled with the sacks of money. In the subsequent shootout with the trio, police killed Moses Okello and Ura Arch Angelo but Jackson Akol somehow slipped away.

Police recovered Shs900 million, a pump action rifle with 16 bullets and a semi-automatic rifle with 30 bullets, three empty yellow bags in which the cash had been, a black jacket, a suitcase, a sack, a walkie-talkie plus the guards’ uniforms.

Akol arrested
Akol, the mind behind the robbery managed to evade arrest until April 23, 2006, when his luck ran out. On that fateful day, Akol, together with others, attacked the Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO), Alex Obwokonyang’s residence in Kanyumu trading centre in Kumi and shot at him. The security officer returned the gunfire and wounded Akol in the leg.

It was not immediately clear why Akol and his group attacked the GISO.
While following the case, police arrested Akol from his home where he was nursing bullet wounds.

After the arrest of Akol, residents of Kanyamu came up with information also implicating the GISO in the heist. Residents apparently picked a notebook containing names of people who were involved in the bullion van robbery near Obwokonyang’s residence on the night Akol and group attacked his home. After Akol’s arrest, police arrested three other people who had gone to Kumi Police Station to inquire into his arrest.

On May 11, 2006, police arrested their own, the then Mid-Eastern deputy regional criminal investigative officer, James Okimit. It was claimed that in the course of following up the Shs300 million which was missing from the robbery, he recovered some money and never declared it. Three other detectives identified as Corporal Baliya, Denis Oundo, and Mugerwa together, with the Kanyumu GISO Alex Obwokonyang, were also implicated in the robbery.

Suspects charged
The four appeared before Soroti Grade One Magistrate’s Court presided over by Charles Emuria and were charged with stealing Shs53 million that they recovered from the thugs. They, however, denied the charges and were sent on remand to Soroti government prison.
By the time the operation ended, 35 people – mainly security operatives – some of whom had been directly involved and others had stolen from the robbers, had been arrested.

How Local Media covered the events surrounding the Stanbic bullion van robberies in Eastern Uganda.

The New Vision February 13,2011
Police recover part of stolen sh800m.
Operatives investigating the Shs800m stolen by private security guards attached to G4S have recovered sh13m. The money was buried in a pineapple garden in Molo village, Tororo District.

The recovery of the sum, just a day after the theft, brought the total sum of cash recovered by Friday to over Shs130m. The Shs13m, sources said, was recovered after operatives from the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) arrested a driver of the security chase car that was escorting the bullion van at the time of the theft.

The driver led the operatives to the spot where he had buried his ‘share’.
“We are pursuing very useful clues and the rest is just a matter of time,” a source said. The driver, who claims that he was placed at gunpoint, was nabbed after he abandoned the chase car near Mbale stadium. The money, belonging to Stanbic Bank, was being transported in a bullion van from Mbale to Moroto, when the G4S guards disappeared with it, abandoning the van in the eastern district of Bulambuli....

The New Vision March 13, 2005
Sh700m robbery suspect gives up.
The suspected master planner of the sh700m robbery from a Stanbic Bank bullion van has surrendered to the police in Tororo. Joseph Ogola walked into the Tororo Central Police Station on Saturday morning reportedly after holding secret meetings with some lawyers and a few friends

Ogola was the commander of the Securicor Gray team that was escorting700 million shillings in a bullion van from Mbale Stanbic Bank to Iganga on February 7. Ogola reportedly told the police that he was tired of hiding. The violent crime crack unit transferred him to Mbale central police station.

Tororo district police commander Patrick Awai said they did not extract any statement from Ogola before he was transferred. Another source said Ogola told the police that he had been hiding in Kenya where he crossed with only Ksh4,000.

Mbale district police commander Stephen Musoke and the regional internal security officer, Lt. Emmanuel Musinguzi, said Ogola first fled to Nairobi before returning close to the Uganda-Kenya border.

Eastern regional Police commander Bob Ngobi said recently that the police had recovered sh80m from Ogola’s relative. Soon after the theft, the police arrested several people for questioning including four back-up security guards who were on an escort pick-up truck behind the bullion van......