By Stelios Orphanides
Numbers of bank robberies rose last year after a two-year hiatus, showing that there is need for more security measures against this type of crime.
According to official police figures, bank robbers last year stole a total of €173,269 in cash plus €4672.50 in cheques, all from branches of the state-owned Cyprus Cooperative Bank.
Several sources said the lender is trying to improve its security, although the Co-op declined to comment.
Before 2017, the last time robbers paid visits to branches was on six other occasions in 2014 stealing €79,960 in cash, according to police data. In 2013, they robbed two banks and left with €15,150 in loot.
Measures agreed and implemented after joint talks between the police, the Association of Cyprus Banks and bank workers’ union Etyk five years ago not only paid off in discouraging bank robbers in the two years that followed but also helped the police to successfully investigate one of the two 2013 robberies and five the of those that took place the following year.
Almost all financial institutions enhanced security in their branches by installing security doors and high-resolution cameras to make identifying suspects easier, sources familiar with the matter said. In addition, banks reduced the amount of cash kept at the counters and switched to time-delay vaults.
Now, since robberies at branches of the Co-op network accounted for 13 of the total 14 since 2012, the lender, into which the government injected almost €1.7 billion in taxpayers’ money in 2014 and 2013, the bank has decided to take the matter more seriously.
According to people familiar with the matter, the Co-op is now looking more carefully into the matter and is in the process of investing more in the security of its branch network and training its staff in special seminars.
Over the past eight years Co-op branches have been robbed 45 times. Other banks have also been affected in the past.
Bank of Cyprus branches were robbed 13 times, those of Hellenic Bank eight times, while branches of the now defunct Cyprus Popular Bank, widely known as Laiki, were hit six times, according to police figures. Branches of USB Bank and the National Bank of Greece have been robbed twice since 2008, while Emporiki Bank, since merged with Alpha Bank, was robbed once.
The new security measures were seen as necessary after a surge in bank robberies in the previous years.
While from 2008 to 2017 a total of 78 bank robberies occurred with criminals stealing almost €1.5 million in total, 64 robberies took place from 2008 to 2012 alone, with bank robbers getting away with more than €1.2m and police completing investigations in 22 cases, slightly more than a third of the total.
In 2009, bank robbers stole €269,711 in cash plus foreign currency worth around €20,000 in 13 robberies, according to the police, who completed investigations in four cases.
The following year, 2010, was the most successful for bank robbers as they managed to steal a total of €415527, GBP8,855 (€9,951) and US$3,885 (€3,200), along with smaller amounts of other foreign currencies in 21 crimes. Only eight of these cases were successfully investigated.
In 2011, robbers stole €204,385 in 14 robberies with the police successfully investigating six of them. The following year, bank robbers got away with €241,950 and GBP1,670.