RICO’s Q (OPINION) — The robbery at the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BNCR), the greatest in the history of the country, is turning out to be a manual for future heists and should be titled ‘How to Rob a Bank (in Costa Rica) and get Away It”.
Let me explain. The bank is robbed. But it took months for the State bank, the largest bank in the country, to realize that a ton of money had gone missing from one of its vaults.
¢3.293 billion colones (around US$6.1 million dollars), in cash.
According to public statements issued by the bank, the bank said the robbery happened in August, but they didn’t realize it until early October. It took them a few more weeks to officially report it to the judiciary.
The money is missing, but was it stolen? Many have begun to ask the question, meanwhile, the judicial police, the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ), has arrested seven people, people in trusted positions, and a few long-time employees (like over two decades).
On October 3, the bank put four of the accused of the theft under administrative leave with pay. Following the formal complaint on October 24, three more people were added to the suspect list.
Earlier this month, before the arrests and court arraignment, three of the seven filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Constitutional Court for being denied their constitutional right of liberty of movement. While not being officially charged, the bank’s administrative leave included they could not leave their residence. In essence, they were being paid to stay at home.
On November 11, in the case codenamed “Gallo Tapado”, the seven were formally accused and the Juzgado Penal de Hacienda y de la Función Pública (Criminal Court of Finance and Public Function) issued preliminary measures.
The court imposed six-month preventive detention (remand) against a “low” level treasurer, identified by his last names Olivas Valle, who took advantage of the fact that there was only one camera in one of the vaults where the money was stored (in the bowels of the Banco Nacional building in downtown San Jose), opening the door of a safe, and little by little transferring some of the cash to a place where the camera had a blind spot, and packed it in a manila envelope.
This is in an area where “not even the lunch bag and that’s how they leave. They are subject to a review by a security officer,” according to the words made in a statement publicly by the bank’s interim general manager, Jaime Murillo.
What happens now?
A deal will most likely be made, a public trial is risky for the bank, with no upside to have the details of how they were robbed and by trusted employees, made public. In particular, that cash that would fill an armored truck was pilfered over a period of weeks and in what was to have been a very secure area.
It is quite possible that there may be others involved, people in high positions, for example, such as managers, supervisors, or any employee who manages sensitive data. Were some of these people in on it, part of a possible criminal structure, or were in omission in their work of controlling and supervising the money that entered and left the bank?
At the very least, the Banco Nacional and other state banks must routinely review their policies related to information privacy and security. The financial industry must constantly design new protocols, which must be adopted, in order to avoid fraud or other situations that cause a lack of credibility in the institution.
Another curiosity regarding this case, the general manager of the Banco Nacional, Bernardo Alfaro, has only referred to it (missing cash) twice and then through videos released by the state bank’s press office.
This is not the first time the Banco Nacional has been robbed from within. In 2013, the manager of the Banco Nacional branch in Cobano, Puntarenas, made off with almost ¢400 million colones. Read the report here Bank Manager and ¢378 Million Colones Missing
More articles on this:
- Biggest bank heist in Costa Rican history an inside job, Banco Nacional reveals
- Fiscalia does not rule out investigating senior officials of the Banco Nacional in the “Gallo Tapado” case
- Suspended Banco Nacional Employees Filed a ‘Habeas Corpus’
- Banco Nacional confirms missing ¢3.3 billion in cash!