ATM theft in Gampola : Police hot on the trail | Sunday Observer

ATM theft in Gampola : Police hot on the trail

29 January, 2023

The theft of an ATM machine in Gampola was the first of its kind reported in Sri Lanka. The incident had taken place on January 25 around 12:30 am. A group of four masked men arrived in a KDH van planning to get away with the ATM machine. The group blocked the entrance of the ATM with the van and rushed inside to overpower the security officer on duty. 

The men then tied up the security officer and threatened him at gunpoint. They proceed to shake the ATM machine and loosen the screws holding the machine while one member of the group disconnected all the wiring and computer systems in place. They then load up the machine onto the van, escaping along with the Rs. 7.6 million inside.

While ATMs were first introduced to Sri Lanka in the 90s, various attempts to steal money from them have been reported over the years. First thieves would trick gullible people unaware of how to use the machine while others have tried to break into the machine. In a previous incident, a group of men including an external lecturer of a leading university were accused of stealing Rs. 5.7 million from an ATM machine belonging to a state back in Bibile by cutting through the panels of the ATM using heat. In 2021, another ATM in Minneriya was robbed of Rs. 7.6 million in a similar manner by a group who had arrived in the guise of repairing it. Other thieves have resorted to stealing ATM related data to make away with the money inside as reported recently from the South.

While Police have managed to nab the thieves in the previous incidents before long, they are still on the hunt for the thieves who took the Gampola ATM.

The security officer had managed to free himself and sound the alarm and the Police had rushed the scene but the robbers were long gone.

However, the security officer noted many details about the thieves including the vehicle’s licence plate number. The registration number SG PE 7611 was communicated to all Police stations in a matter of minutes.

Van located

Before long the police emergency hotline in Mirihana received an anonymous tip about a suspicious group in a van lurking near the Galaha junction roundabout. The hotline operators provide this information to the Peradeniya Police as Galaha comes under their purview.

A team from the Peradeniya Police were immediately despatched to Galaha junction. The time was 4.55 am. Identifying the KDH van, the Police crosschecked the licence plate number sent by the island wide notice earlier. After verifying the number, the police team approached the van and found a man with his hands tied behind his back.

The man identified himself as van’s driver. A resident of Aranayake, he turns out to be a retired Airman from the Sri Lanka Air Force. The owner of the van, he said, was a man who worked as a constable in the Sri Lanka Police for a short time.

He told the Police that he had been running hires for additional income and that the group had hired the van and had tied him up. He said they took the van away and later returned it and abandoned it with him inside. 

But the Police suspected the driver’s circumstances. His eyes were uncovered and hands tied in front. His feet were unbound. He also had no injuries on his person. He could have cried out for help without waiting for the Police to show up. The officer also noticed that the driver did not appear distressed in spite of the situation.

Informing senior officers, the Peradeniya Police handed the driver along with the van to the Gampola Police. He remains in custody as part of the investigation due to the contradictions in his story.

Unlikely story

The driver told the Police that a man had hired the van claiming he wanted to travel from Peradeniya to Gampola and that he was contacted through Whatsapp. The man along with another had got into the van in Peradeniya he said, adding that two others were picked up from Deltota.

“On the way they threatened me with a pistol and asked me to get off the van. 

They covered my eyes and put me in the back of the van. We travelled for a bit and then they dropped me off. They asked me to sit on a rock and left one of the men with me. I sat there for a long time. Then they returned and picked me up. Later they dropped me off. When the Police arrived I was in Peradeniya,” he said.

However, the Police do not trust this alibi in its entirety due to their experience in solving crimes. According to one senior officer it is unlikely for a group of robbers to take along a person who is not involved in the crime as it may give them away. It seems strange they left him on a rock and even left a member of their group with him, and then to come back to pick him up. The robbers had even called him and said they will pay him Rs. 50,000 for the hire. It is unbelievable,” he said.

According to CCTV footage found in one location, three people had been seen leaving the driver when the gang consisted of four men. The Police believe that this points to the identity of the fourth robber. The Police are continuing their investigation gathering mobile network data and other evidence.