Fruit vendor who lost $500k dismissed CCTV problem

Fruit vendor who lost $500k dismissed CCTV problem
Nguyen Van Nhat (left) and Ngo Quang Phuoc.
PHOTO: The New Paper, The Straits Times

He cried when he found almost $500,000 in cash missing from his safe.

But after the shock discovery came the nagging questions.

Why him?

Out of about 1,400 shops at the Pasir Panjang wholesale centre, why was his the only one to be hit?

How did the robbers carve a hole in his safe and where were the tools?

Fruit stall owner Loh Yong Soon, 46, found his shop in a mess when he reached work at about 6am on Tuesday.

In his office, he got another shock: He found a hole the size of an A4-sized piece of paper on the side of the safe, and close to $500,000 missing.

He immediately called the police.

Mr Loh told The New Paper: "After the robbery, I went home and had a good cry."

He said he usually does not keep that much money in the safe, which has been in his office for decades.

The bulk of the cash was supposed to be used to pay his suppliers, who prefer payment in cash.

"It was the festive period, so many of our suppliers prefer cash to cheques," he said.

"I also wanted to give out bonuses to my employees because Chinese New Year is approaching."

CCTV NOT WORKING

A week before the robbery, Mr Loh found out that the closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) installed in his office was not working because of a power trip the previous week.

He dismissed the problem because the CCTV technician was overseas.

"Some of my workers have to support their families so I felt very regretful that I couldn't give them their Chinese New Year bonus," Mr Loh told TNP, explaining why he cried.

Police investigations revealed that the suspects had entered the shop by forcing open a ventilator gap on the roof of the wholesale centre.

Two men, aged 23 and 35, were arrested at about 10.30pm at a hotel along Bayfront Avenue, just 16 hours after the robbery was reported.

Police recovered cash amounting to about $433,000.

Also recovered were luxury goods including shoes, belts and wallets, all believed to have been bought with the stolen cash.

The duo, who hold Vietnamese passports and were here on tourist visas, will be charged in court today for housebreaking and theft by night.

If convicted, they could face up to 14 years in jail.

Mr Loh was relieved to hear from police that the amount recovered more or less matched the amount in the safe.

He can now sleep better at night, he told TNP last night.

"I am in the process of fixing the CCTV in the office and definitely looking into arranging another security system on top of that," said Mr Loh.

*The area bounded by the blue line is the dimensions of an A4-sized piece of paper

CRIME PREVENTION MEASURES

Police advise property owners to take crime prevention measures such as ensuring openings are well-secured with good-quality grilles and close-shackled padlocks. People should also avoid keeping large sums of cash and valuables on their premises.

Owners should install a burglar alarm, motion sensor lights or CCTVs that cover access points on their premises, and ensure they are tested periodically.

At yesterday's press conference, Commander of Clementi Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police Gerald Lim said the speediness in solving the case was due to the investigative skills of his officers and information from the public.

Public tip-offs had helped police establish the identity of the two suspects.

Thieves were well-equipped to cut safe open

Cases of thieves cutting safes to get hold of the loot are rare in Singapore, say experts.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam from Hilborne Law, who has been practising for 15 years, said this is the first time he has heard of such a case.

The former senior prison officer added: "I have encountered cases where the thieves make off with the whole safe, but never one where the safe was cut.

"I think this current case shows a strong degree of premeditation on the part of the thieves."

Former policeman Joseph Tan agreed.

Mr Tan, who founded the Crime Library - a voluntary group that helps track down missing people - added: "It appeared that the thieves brought their equipment to the victim's office and they were very prepared to commit the crime."

He also said that the safe was most probably cut using a oxy-acetylene flame, an extremely hot flame used to cut metal.

Safe manufacturers contacted by TNP declined to comment on what it takes to cut such a hole, citing security reasons.

Additional reporting by Shaffiq Alkhatib.

fnawang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 7, 2016.
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