The Great Piarco $5.5 million robbery …”INSIDE JOB”

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There is no doubt that Wednesday’s $5.5 million robbery at the Piarco International Airport was an inside job.

There will be several suspects in this matter. Who are the suspects? Guards and personnel stationed at the airport, bank employees, employees of the security firm transporting the money to Piarco, or employees working with the local airline.

But one thing is certain – the robbery was carried out by professionals with high powered rifles and right away, many are saying only soldiers and/or police officers could have done that.

Remember the $17 million robbery on November 27, 2013? That robbery was carried out in the same style as the Piarco heist. In that incident, a security guard was killed during the robbery and sometime later, one of the suspects, a soldier, was killed in what police believe was a falling out among the bandits.

Police believe the military-style strike on the panel van carrying the $17 million loot, an accumulation of money intended to replenish all the commercial banks in Tobago, was carried out by highly-trained professionals.

Veteran security guard Supt Bert Clarke, 59, was killed after the security van was rammed from behind by the robbers. The driver managed to escape and was detained by police for several days before being released.

 The Ford Ranger used by the bandits to ram the security van was loaded with bags of cement in the rear seat to stabilise it during the collision. Police recovered casings from three types of weapons which were used to fire on the security van, 7.56 mm, 9 mm and shotgun cartridges.

Around 4.30 am, on November 28, the Sentinel Security vehicle was heading east along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, near Trincity Industrial Estate, when it was struck from behind by the Ranger.

Two men emerged from the pick-up truck and opened fire on the panel van, killing Clarke. They escaped in a white Kia Sorento with the cash, which also included US$150,000.

So what about Wednesday’s robbery?

It was well-planned as the $5.5 million was about to be sent to Tobago via Caribbean Airlines.

Police said the bandits struck at 11.25 am at the cargo loading area along the Golden Grove Road, Piarco, as the money was being transferred from an Amalgamated Security vehicle to be loaded onto the aircraft.

An airport security guard reportedly stopped the Amalgamated officers from completing the loading process onto a cargo bin due to a security concern.

This period allowed four masked men armed with high-powered rifles and dressed in army fatigue to exit a heavily tinted Toyota Hilux pick-up, licensed TDN 7020, and order those around onto the ground. The gunmen then loaded the cash onto the pick-up, which was parked on the compound before the Amalgamated van arrived, and escaped with the loot.

The getaway vehicle was later found parked at Building 1A, Oropune Gardens, Piarco, about an hour after the incident.

Police said on hearing of the robbery, officers of the Central Division conducted road blocks but were unable to apprehend the culprits.

Police said it appeared the culprits had some knowledge of the security mechanisms in place for the cash cargo. So far, police have detained seven persons for questioning. What was more alarming is that the Piarco Police Station is withing walking distance of the crime scene.

In a press releaseon Wednesday, First Citizens’ Bank’s head of Brand and Marketing, Larry Olton, said the bandits struck just as the money was being transferred from the armoured vehicle to the Airports Authority personnel to be loaded onto the plane.

Also commenting on the incident, First Citizens Group CEO, Karen Darbasie, said: “The incidences of crime appears to be on the rise, and has indeed reached alarming levels. Too often now we are seeing what appears to be planned and organised criminal activity, targeting businesses, including banks. This last incident seems to be no exception. This calls for greater vigilance on the part of businesses, the TTPS and all stakeholders, and First Citizens is taking further steps to ensure the safety of our people, our customers and their assets, under the circumstances and in this current environment.”

She added that First Citizens officials are assisting police with their investigations.
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