What you need to know:
- The 15-member theft ring was busted a few days ago after a team from SGA Security Group sent to re-stock an ATM for a local bank in Nansana with cash went missing.
The police’s Flying Squad is investigating a string of brazen thefts at automated teller machines (ATMs) in four Kampala suburbs that resulted in the loss of Shs2 billion across two weeks.
The 15-member theft ring was busted a few days ago after a team from SGA Security Group sent to re-stock an ATM for a local bank in Nansana with cash went missing. The security firm operates ATMs on behalf of a number of financial institutions in Uganda.
The team SGA Security Group dispatched to Nansana for what was thought to be a routine cash loading job had five staff. Sunday Monitor has established that all of them are at large with an unspecified amount of money.
The cash loaders on the team had been furnished with cash, passwords and pin codes to access the ATM in Nansana. They were guarded by escorts. Both cash loaders and escorts vanished, prompting SGA Security Group to do some housekeeping that revealed that Shs2 billion had been stolen by—presumably—its staff.
Ten of SGA Security Group’s employees are currently being held by the police after ATMs at Kawaala, Namirembe Road, Kasubi and Nansana were re-stocked with significantly less cash top up amounts. Taken together, the under supply amounted to Shs2 billion.
We understand that the recent disappearing act at Nansana was the second time in as many days that the shenanigans were taking place at the ATM.
Mr Daniel Arinaitwe, one of the managers at SGA Security Group, told Sunday Monitor via telephone that the security firm is aware of the recent goings-on.
“I cannot comment a lot on this matter because it is being investigated by the police,” he tersely said.
Founded in 1969 as Factory Guards Limited, SGA Security Group has grown from its base in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to extend its footprint to Uganda and Tanzania. As well as providing security services to big corporate organisations in Uganda, SGA Security Group offer ATM vaulting, cash loading and management services for a number of financial institutions in the country.
Police preliminary investigations indicate that SGA Security Group banks on its armoured services to deliver money to ATMs of respective sponsor banks. The sponsor banks entrust SGA Security Group with money from their vaults. The money is typically insured to guard against any risks. SGA Security Group then issues a demand note to the bank in question for payment of services rendered. We understand that most commercial banks are afflicted by thefts, but insurance payouts always keep them out of the headlines. What made the recent case affecting a top local bank, whose name we have withheld, peculiar is the density of thefts—five across a two-week stretch.
Mr Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, confirmed that 10 suspects—who are SGA Security Group staff—are currently detained at Central Police Station Kampala as investigations into the thefts continue. However, SGA Security Group says 12 suspects were handed over to the police.
“The management of SGA Security Group would load money that [the local bank in question] had requested and then the money would be taken to the machine, but the people who load money in the machine would load less than what the bank requested,” Mr Onyango said of the thefts.
While insurance cover softens blows that such old-fashioned heists pose, commercial banks in Uganda are clearly looking over their shoulder. Last month, the Uganda Bankers Association—an umbrella body for commercial banks licensed and supervised by the central bank—convened the first ever financial fraud forum.
The event was attended by many stakeholders, including commercial banks, the Judiciary, and security agencies. Heists—be they old fashioned or avant-garde like jackpotting ATMs—were discussed with a soberness that yielded an admission of them being a clear and present danger.
While the avant-garde heists have captured the fancy of many not least because we live in a digital age, their old fashioned cousins have gained traction in Uganda fuelled—doubtless—by the recent cost of living crisis.
A credible source from the banking sector told Sunday Monitor that all commercial banks outsource security groups to transport money and fill the offsite ATM machines. This, our source that attended the forum adds, is the underbelly of commercial banks.
We understand that—in the latest episode—SGA Security Group has notified the affected bank about the arrests police’s Flying Squad effected on Thursday. Investigations have pointed to an inside job.
SGA replenishes offsite ATMs for several financial institutions.
This happens daily and reconciliations are done to balance the cash dispensed to customers with the residual cash per ATM.
On Monday of 17th April 2023 after Easter weekend, the system indicated that several ATMs were running low on cash.
We immediately dispatched a team to the ATMs, who confirmed indeed there was an anomaly on the physical balances Vis-à-vis the loaded amounts per ATM.
As the reconciliations and balancing are still going on, we have handed over 12 of our staff to police to help with investigations.
We would like to assure the public all financial institutions that service continues uninterrupted even as investigations are ongoing.
SGA takes full responsibility for the offsite ATMs once they have been handed over and the running access and accountability is with SGA and not the financial institutions.
Head of communication.