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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Large-scale heists uncommon, but bank robberies on the rise ]

Large-scale heists uncommon, but bank robberies on the rise

George Psyllides

BANK robbers in Cyprus lack the cool sophistication of their Hollywood counterparts. Can you imagine a sharp-suited George Clooney pulling off a heist by brandishing a kebab skewer?

Such was the bizarre weapon of choice of a hooded man who robbed a branch of the Popular Bank recently in the Famagusta district town of Frenaros.

His loot? Two €500 bills – enough to throw a few big barbecues or move up to a shotgun for his next raid – but he did not have the opportunity to spend the case because he was caught shortly afterwards.

There do not seem to be any professional robbers in Cyprus – at least bank hold-ups are not on the scale of similar ones overseas.

Here, such robberies appear almost randomly opportunistic. But any weapon – whether a meat skewer or top-end pistol – poses a serious threat to innocent life. Someone brandishing a knife or barbecue tool could even be more dangerous – the weapon betraying both rank amateurism and possible reckless desperation.

Experts say armed robberies are the main crimes of concern as the possibility of homicide is always present if the victim resists.

And some predict that the economic crisis and the resulting unemployment could make things worse.

Police says the weapons usually used in the robberies are pistols, hunting shotguns and knives.

So far, including the meat skewer job, there have been three armed bank robberies this year.

According to police, there were 13 bank and co-op cases in 2009, including one attempted robbery.

Although authorities solved nine of those cases, there was a marked increase compared to the previous year, which saw seven cases, including an attempt.

Robberies were quite rare in 2007 and 2006 with a total of three in both years.

In 2005 there were seven, down from the 2004 spike, which recorded 14 robberies in banks and co-ops.

But tragedy struck in one of the two robberies in 2007: a father of two underage children was shot dead while chasing an armed robber in Larnaca.

Iacovos Kyriacou, 46, was making a deposit at the time of the robbery and decided to chase the robber who tried to get away on a moped with around €12,000.

The robber had turned into a supermarket car park where Kyriacou managed to knock him over. As he got out of his car to confront the robber, the man shot him the stomach, and ran into a nearby field.

He was arrested shortly afterwards.

In December last year a British expat foiled an armed bank robbery, wrestling with the robber who abandoned the money and run away.

Bentick ‘Ben’ Hinton, a former marine commando, who was later awarded for his act struck a note of caution, telling the public not to approach armed people.

“I had special training, which kicked in when I needed it,” he said.

A bank employee union (ETYK) official warns that heroics should be avoided.

“The money is insured, no one will be hurt financially if a thief takes them but if someone gets hurt there will be a problem,” said Mimis Theodotou, who handles industrial relations and health and safety for ETYK.

Bank employees are trained to handle such situations.

They are told not to resist to the robbers and hand over the money with no heroics to avoid loss of life.

Most banks today have security cameras covering the premises and alarms connected to the police.

“People feel that security has to be increased. In some branches measures were taken and they obviously feel more secure,”

Theodotou said.

It seems Cyprus is still a long way from installing bulletproof glass between customers and tellers as this would not do any good to the banks’ image.

“They try to be friendlier and accessible to the public – they do not want glass,” Theodotou said.

Costas Yiallouros, the Bank of Cyprus’ manager of Corporate Security and Health and Safety Department said the issue of upgrading security measures is under continuous review based on the level of crime.

“What is desirable is to find way where you have a secure branch and provide service to customers,” he said.

“What I need to emphasise however is that security measures at banks are always continuous under review.”

But even if banks were to implement far stricter measures, the fact that almost none of their branches are purpose-built would not help.

Most banks are shops that are rented; their structure is not built for high-security specifications.

In fact probably the only building constructed for that purpose is that of the Central Bank of Cyprus in Nicosia.

There, customers have no direct access to tellers who sit behind glass, while all other areas are off limits, necessitating special permission to go through the revolving doors.

But other measures are gradually kicking in as robberies become more of a problem.

Such measures are time-controlled tills and safes and revolving doors, which will make robbers think twice before venturing into the branch.

Yiallouros said new security measures are always discussed with police and ETYK and there is a minimum set of measures taken at every branch.

There remains a problem, however, with small branches, scattered all over Cyprus.

Since the year 2000, banks have gradually moved to shut down small one or two-staff branches.

“Those have decreased as they were the easy targets,” Theodotou said.

However, this does not seem to be the case with co-ops, found in almost every small village on the island.

Of the 13 cases in 2009, eight – including one attempt – were against co-ops.

The total amount of cash taken by the perpetrators from co-ops in 2009 was €184.516, $9.383, ?1.715 Sterling and $100 Australian compared to €156.241 and ?160 Sterling taken from banks.

In 2005 five co-ops were robbed as opposed to two banks while in 2004 the number of co-ops robbed was eight compared to six banks.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.

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