How did thief walk out with $2m in cash?

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THEFT AT CERTIS CISCO
How did thief walk out with $2m in cash?
WHEN you think of million-dollar heists, images of hi-tech raiders armed with the latest assault weapons, explosives, laser beams and sophisticated computer systems come to mind.
By Desmond Ng
05 July 2009

WHEN you think of million-dollar heists, images of hi-tech raiders armed with the latest assault weapons, explosives, laser beams and sophisticated computer systems come to mind.

But one man coolly walked out of one of Singapore’s best guarded facilities – the Certis Cisco Centre – with $2 million in cash.

He had no weapons or gadgetry aiding him.

A simple ruse was apparently all that he needed.

The 28-year-old Malaysian pleaded guilty to stealing the money from his employer around noon on 12 Apr.

In a district court on Thursday, auxiliary police officer Stanley Ong Beng Hock also admitted to moving $1.2 million to Malaysia through the Woodlands checkpoint, without making a report, as required for sums exceeding $30,000.

So, how did he beat the system?

The cash processing centres in the building off Paya Lebar Road are closely watched, with some $1.2 billion passing through there every day, according to a report in The Straits Times in September last year.

As Singapore’s largest private security firm, Certis Cisco handles money from ATMs, banks and more than 3,000 retail outlets.

It also operates the largest auxiliary police force in Singapore, with more than 3,000 trained officers. The cash processing centres inside the labyrinthine complex are built of reinforced concrete.

There are more than 300 security cameras.

Employees have to first report to a security counter outside.

They enter empty-handed and all personal belongings go into lockers at the security counter, The New Paper reported in April 2005.

They then need to be cleared by a fingerprint scanner.

While they can go to work in their own clothes, all pockets have to be sewn up.

They also have to put on company jumpsuits that do not have pockets.

These outfits are fastened with a tag and employees have to be unbuttoned by security guards when they leave the room, say for a toilet break or meals.

Employees must also remove their shoes and socks each time for a security officer to check them.

17-step search

Each employee leaving the room is patted down in a 17-step search.

With all these measures, how did Ong pull off the perfect heist?

Deputy public prosecutor Jean Chan told the court that Ong stole the money while he was responsible for delivering nine consignments of cash from the cash processing centres on the fourth level to the vault on level one.

Ong had been working in the company for four years then.

He stacked up most of the boxes of cash on three of the four trolleys, leaving the fourth with fewer boxes.

He placed an envelope with $2 million in $1,000 notes on top of the boxes on the fourth trolley.

While pushing the trolleys out to the search area, he positioned the three trolleys stacked high with boxes in such a way that they blocked the view of the fourth trolley.

Two officers began checking the first three trolleys.

Ong used his overall jacket to conceal the envelope of cash, and then made up an excuse to go to the washroom.

He hid the envelope behind a sofa in a rest room.

Ong then returned to the search area to continue the escort of cash to the vault.

It is unclear why checkers did not immediately notice the missing money.

After the delivery, Ong returned to the rest room, took the $2 million from the envelope, and left for lunch, around 1pm.

Evaded searches

It is also unclear how Ong managed to evade all the elaborate searches in doing this.

An alarm was raised at 2.45pm when he failed to report back from lunch.

An audit was immediately conducted and it was found that $2 million was missing.

A thorough search was conducted at the building, which led to the discovery of the torn envelope and Ong’s overalls hidden behind the sofa.

Ong met a colleague, Tan Chee Wey, 41, at the toilet of the hawker centre on Old Airport Road that afternoon, and handed him eight stacks of $1,000 notes amounting to $800,000, in a plastic bag.

He said he had stolen the cash and made a pact with Tan to use the $800,000 to pay off his (Ong’s) debts.

He promised to give him 10 per cent of the money as commission.

The duo agreed to meet in Johor Baru that evening.

Ong then took a taxi to the Woodlands Checkpoint with the remaining $1.2 million and walked into Malaysia.

Two days later, on 14 Apr, Ong was arrested by the Malaysian police in a rental flat in Kuala Lumpur.

$650,000 found in flat

They found $650,000 in the flat. Another $794,757 was seized from Tan, whose case is pending.

DPP Chan pressed for a stiff sentence, saying the offences were premeditated and Ong had abused and exploited the trust and authority given to him as an auxiliary police officer.

Ong made an unusual request. He preferred caning to a long jail term.

But district judge Liew Thiam Leng said there was no caning for the offences he had committed, The Straits Times reported.

Ong will be sentenced on 9 Jul.

He faces up to seven years and a fine each, for theft and money-laundering.

For moving more than $30,000 without giving a report, he can be jailed up to three years and fined up to $50,000.

Certis Cisco said it has since implemented additional security measures.

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