How PNG’s biggest bank heist was executed
Papua New Guinea’s high profile bank robber William Nanua Kapris and 12 of his accomplices have been found guilty for stealing K2.4 million cash from Madang town’s Bank South Pacific in 2008.
Madang National Court judge Justice David Cannings pronounced the verdict in March after a two-year trial that captivated the nation.
The robbers are currently being remanded in custody in Madang’s Beon prison awaiting their sentencing.
The sentence was to be handed down last month but was postponed to this month because submissions were not ready.
The robbery remains the biggest ever in PNG which cleaned out the local branch of PNG’s largest bank and was executed to perfection. No one, including the police, was aware of it until after the robbers had disappeared.
However, quick police action resulted in Kapris caught at a roadblock in Central Province 13 days after the robbery. He was shot and locked up at Bomana prison.
However, the drama did not end there. On January 12, 2010, he masterminded a most spectacular and daring escape in broad daylight when he walked off from prison with the help of an accomplice disguised as a human rights lawyer.
The nation’s police and correctional services panicked and a massive manhunt was conducted which eventually captured him holed up in a Port Moresby motel on February 6, three weeks and six days after his escape.
Kapris enthralled the nation after his capture when he ‘revealed’ in a police interview about the alleged involvement of three national politicians, who he said, assisted and benefitted from his crimes.
A video tape of the interview which named the MPs was circulated widely in the country, however, no action has resulted as yet. The MPs have since denied any links with the criminal.
Even his surname Kapris riled the minister for Trade and Industry Gabriel Kapris (no relation) who disputed the criminal’s claim to the name and accused the press for getting it wrong. However, a national court judge saw no reason to change the name.
As the details of the robbery emerged from the lengthy case, they revealed how the robbery had been planned and executed across six provinces, using sea and land transport.
Kapris is a convicted criminal who had escaped from Port Moresby’s Bomana prison in 2007 and was hiding away in Kimbe, West New Britain province, when he planned and executed the biggest bank robbery ever in PNG.
The plan was hatched in West New Britain, one of the islands provinces of PNG. On June 2008, Kapris travelled with seven others on a banana boat with an outboard motor from West New Britain to Lae, the capital of Morobe province. Once in Lae, he joined up with 14 other accomplices to plan the robbery.
The group sent an accomplice Jacob Okimbari ahead to Madang by road to prepare the ground work for the robbery to take place.
Okimbari monitored the movements of BSP branch manager and booked two rooms at the Malolo Lodge, 40 kilometres north of Madang, where the bank managers and their families would be held hostage.
On Friday July 3, Kapris and others were heading to Madang when their vehicle broke down just outside the town. However, with the assistance of accomplices in Madang, they were able to get to town and went straight to work.
With a number of vehicles hired, they followed and kidnapped the bank manager as he was returning home after locking up the bank. They then went with him to his home, where they kidnapped his family and drove them to Malolo Lodge where they were locked up.
They later kidnapped the bank’s assistant manager and also locked him up at Malolo. The robbers ran into another hitch when the two managers told them that while they had the keys to the strong room, another officer had the keys to the compartments where the cash was kept.
So that night pretending to be police officers carrying out a raid, the robbers woke the officer and her family and kidnapped them also.
There were further problems when the bank officer could not find her keys despite searching frantically for them. She finally convinced the robbers that she may have left the keys in the office.
Early Saturday morning, the robbers and the bank officers came to the bank and entered the premises from the back entrance. There were no security guards at the gate. The bank officers opened the strong room and compartments and the criminals loaded the stacks of cash into the various bags they had brought.
As they were working, a fourth bank officer came unsuspectingly to work that morning and was spotted through the CCTV camera. The bank manager was sent out to intercept him and he also became a hostage.
When the thieves had cleaned out some K2.4 million in cash as well as some foreign currencies, they left the bank and headed back to Malolo Lodge. The hostages were warned to remain in their rooms .The robbers rewarded their hostages with K100, 000 cash for cooperating with them before they fled.
One of the bank officers decided to leave the lodge that night and managed to get a lift back to town where he alerted the police. The police went to Malolo Lodge at 3am on Sunday morning and picked up the hostages, returning them to their homes.
A massive manhunt kicked off immediately with police in bordering provinces alerted to look out for the criminals. The criminals who had arrived in Lae on Saturday spent the time organising for a place to sort out the loot. A home of a friend of one of the accomplices was identified at Finch Street, Cassowary Road, where the loot was brought on Sunday to be counted. By 10pm on Sunday evening, the loot was counted out and shared amongst the robbers.
Police begin arrests
Some of the accomplices went out straight on Sunday afternoon to celebrate at a motel and their celebrations attracted the attention of the police in the early hours of Monday morning.
The police investigated and arrested two men, one of them an accomplice in the robbery who had more than K28,000 still with BSP Madang tags on them. Later, police arrested another suspect near the University of Technology.
In the meantime, Kapris took the rest of the money to pay off the others, who had assisted him at 8-mile block on the outskirts of the city. That afternoon, he tried to leave Lae, but the sea was too rough.
The next day, Tuesday, he and some of his accomplices left Lae following the coast line for Oro province where they refuelled at Oro Bay and headed to East Cape in Milne Bay Province where they spent the night.
On Thursday they travelled to Logea island, south of Milne Bay and spent the night there. On Friday, they headed to Abau in the Central Province. On Saturday, they travelled to two prearranged locations and were met by a female accomplice with two vehicles from Port Moresby. The boat was loaded onto one of the trucks and the group travelled to Port Moresby to the home of the woman.
Kapris did not remain at large for long. On July 17, 13 days after the robbery had taken place, Port Moresby police received information that Kapris was in Central province, outside the city.
Police set up a roadblock at one of the villages where they managed to capture him and two others.
Police shot Kapris four times in the leg. Tracing the hired cars, police found they were hired by a female accomplice in Port Moresby.
Police went to her home and found the boat in the yard, bags of cash amounting to K161,800 with BSP Madang tags on them, two pistols, three sets of camouflaged police uniforms with inspector ranks on them, and some live bullets. In Lae, police recovered a suitcase filled with K127,500 cash with BSP Madang tags on them buried by relatives of one of the accomplices.
More arrests followed in Lae and Madang in the following months with the arrest of the 14 accomplices.