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Sixth man arrested for bank heist

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A group of men who were arrested after a botched bank robbery are escorted by police at the Kampong Cham provincial police station, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Kampong Cham provincial police yesterday announced one more arrest in the bizarre hostage-situation-turned-inside-job that included a nearly 30-hour stand-off at an Acleda Bank branch and a midnight chase through a rubber plantation.

At a press conference in Stung Trang district, provincial police chief Chhay Kimson told reporters the number of suspects had risen to six  — four of them Acleda employees — and sought to clarify the circumstances surrounding yesterday’s events.

On Wednesday, three men posed as meth-addicted kidnappers and hostages in an attempt to distract police from their real goal of robbing the small bank branch in a bid to cover up its manager’s embezzlement.  

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Men arrested during a botched bank robbery are lined up for the media at the Kampong Cham provincial police station, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Kimson also defended police handling of what they believed to be a hostage situation, saying police were simply taking every precaution to ensure the safety of those thought to be hostages. At one point, police gave the captors methamphetamines, and later pulled out entirely, in order to calm the “kidnappers”.

“We delayed the crackdown operation because we wanted the hostages’ lives to be out of danger, but we could not have expected that the Acleda Bank staffer, who we thought was a hostage, had ulterior motives,” he said.

The four Acleda employees involved in the botched heist, Kimson said, included Sin Kim­thath, 35, the branch’s financial director and the plot’s alleged ringleader.

According to deputy provincial police chief Chim Senghong, Kimthath had been embezzling from his branch to cover his debts after his cashew plantation began to fail and his wife lost money in a tontine.

“The suspect also confessed that he embezzled more than $20,000 from the bank and knew that at the end of January, there would be a financial audit of the bank’s management. So when he did not have enough money [to replace the embezzled funds], he used this idea to rob the bank,” Senghong said.

The other suspects included Soy Lina, 20, acting chief of finance, and bank staffers Tin Kuyheng, 29, and An Matly, 24, as well as Sin Kimthath’s brother, Sin Kimthon. An outsider, Sim Tola, also known as Gem, 28, acted as a gunman in the plot.

Senghong said that there had never been a hostage situation, and that the suspects’ claims and demands for drugs were simply intended to obscure the group’s real motive and convince police that “they were real drug addicts and had mental problems”.

“The curtain is opened now,” Senghong said. “This is a new trick by criminals who acted as hostages, and also negotiated with police and the bank management by using drugs as their main demand, and using tricky ways.”

Police were unsure how much money the bank had lost when suspects briefly escaped by motorbike but said they had recovered some money along with a suspect’s gun.

Acleda CEO In Channy said that a working group is calculating the losses from the embezzlement but estimated the amount to be about $55,000.

He added that the suspects had been fired and that the bank was pressing charges, calling the incident a wake-up call for the bank.

“We will increase our check-ups on human re­source management, and increase our inspections and audits,” he said.

The suspects are currently being detained at the provincial police station for further questioning, and police are still searching for additional suspects, including the wife of alleged ringleader Kimthath. 

To contact the reporter on this story: Kim Yuthana at yuthana.kim@phnompenhpost.com

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