It is exactly two weeks since robbers entered the strongroom of a Kenya Commercial Bank branch in Thika and stole over Sh52 million. However, the circumstances under which the heist was executed still remain a mystery.
Three people — two brothers and a friend — have been charged with the theft.
Those behind the heist appear to have learnt the tricks from Ocean’s Eleven, an American movie that has inspired many criminals around the world.
News of the Thika heist came to the public’s attention on November 19, but it is believed the digging of a tunnel that was used by the robbers to get to the bank’s vault started months ago. All the while, those behind the robbery ran a shop next to the bank, ostensibly selling books.
When the bank realised that some cash was missing, the thieves had made away with Sh52.6 million, 95 Australian dollars, 185 euros, 1,630 sterling pounds, 271,000 Tanzania shillings, 947,000 Uganda shillings, US$5,781, 40 South African rand and 5 Canadian dollars.
Mr Halford Munene Murakaru, 32, his brother Charles Mwangi Murakaru, 30, and their friend Julius Ndung’u Wainaina, 32, earlier in the week appeared in a Thika court where they denied involvement in the theft and were freed on a bond of Sh4 million each.
Police sources say two suspects, who they described as masterminds of the crime, are being sought, with reports indicating that one was hiding at the Coast and another in western Kenya.
A total of Sh17.1 million, US$1,311, 340 sterling pounds, 3,660 euros, 5 Canadian dollars, 85 Australian dollars, 46,000 Tanzania shillings and 20,000 Uganda shillings was recovered in Juja, about 10 kilometres from the KCB branch, three days after the heist was discovered. It was hidden in a house rented by a woman whom is yet to be identified.
Police, led by Thika OCPD Willy Simba and the station’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Linus Owango, have remained tight-lipped about the circumstances of the recovery of the cash. They only told the Saturday Nation that three suspects were arrested on Saturday at Marurui in Kasarani, Nairobi, after a tip-off from their neighbours.
The suspects are said to have directed the police to Juja, where the money was recovered. The occupant of the house where the cash was found was not present when the police raided it.
The rest of the money was yet to be recovered by yesterday.
According to the landlord, a female tenant paid Sh21,000 as deposit and one-month rent for the Juja house. She was issued with a payment slip. However, she was yet to move into the house.
Police are yet to figure out how the suspects executed their plan, which saw them dig a 30-metre-long and 10-metre-deep tunnel from Thika City Friendly Stalls, where they had put up a bookshop.
From the bookshop, the robbers dug their way to the bank on Kenyatta Highway and directly opposite the Thika Police Station. A lane behind the bank has been blocked and has a black gate. It is now used as an entry point by cash delivery vehicles. The area has been secured with an electric fence. The lane separates the bank from the stalls.
New business people rented the stalls in June. The exhibition centre is busy and it is baffling how the criminals dug the tunnel undetected. Some of the equipment they used were sophisticated. It is believed some of the suspects have degrees in engineering.
When the bank manager, Mr Samuel Ng’ang’a, reported the heist to the police, detectives sent to the crime scene found a large gas cylinder — the type used with metal cutters. Other items included welding equipment and diggers.
Of interest is how the criminals ferried their tools to the site and dug the tunnel without raising suspicion among fellow tenants and the management of the exhibition centre.
To prevent the tunnel from caving in, the excavators fitted planks to act as the roof of the tunnel. The sturdy planks were supported by steel bars. Judging from the power cables found at the crime scene, the robbers had a lighting system that facilitated their operations.
The soil collected from the tunnel was stored in a stall that had tinted glass. After a while, it would be packed in cartons and loaded onto personal vehicles. To a casual eye, the cartons could easily have looked like merchandise.
A caretaker at the exhibition centre and a custodian of the keys to the main gate have been arrested and were produced in court last week, when the police were allowed to continue holding them.
There has been no word from the police as to whether the two will be charged or they are only assisting with investigations.
Further, it is intriguing that the robbers located the bank’s strongroom, without deviating even by an inch.
The tunnel they dug led to the strongroom, raising questions over whether the location could have been leaked by a serving or a former bank staffer or someone with extensive knowledge of the premises.
The Murakaru brothers come from a humble family in Karura village, Karatina, Nyeri County.