Kampala. The scheme was elaborate, according to official account. A bullion van on a routine trip had collected in excess of Shs2.4b in cash from Kayunga and Mukono Stanbic Bank branches.
Its return journey to the city centre was interrupted at Kyambogo, eastern Kampala outskirt, and two people shot dead in what the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) said was an encounter between its operatives and suspected robbers.
One victim was post-humously identified as Pte Bright Turyatunga, who is alleged to have routinely moonlighted as an armed robber after he in 2012 deserted the army where he served under the Special Forces Command (SFC).
Particulars of the second individual who was gunned could not readily be established. Both bodies were taken to the City Mortuary for autopsy.
Col Kaka Bagyenda, the director general of the domestic spy agency, told journalists yesterday afternoon that an informer tipped them about some suspected robbers trailing a bullion van.
They deployed a counter team who caught up with them at Kyambogo. The face-off culminated in cross-fire and the death of the duo.
According to ISO, their operatives intercepted the bullion van as the suspected robbers they said had connived with the driver, removed cash from the van and stashed it in a Toyota Premio car.
At this point, guards in the van were unconscious after being fed on food laced with sedatives during the city in-bound trip, operatives reported.
Four thugs and the van driver fled with about Shs671m in Uganda currency and Pounds5,000 (Shs22m), ISO claimed, without explaining how they had precise figures of the stolen money when the escapees remain at large.
That is not the only contradiction. The suspected thugs, the agency said, also ran away with nine bags of Uganda currency coins containing Shs2.5m, but left behind a less weighty box containing $90,722 (Shs329m) in cash.
Overall, cash in the van was worth Shs2.4b, according to the spies.
Col Bagyenda’s press conference yesterday happened roughly 18 hours after the incident and witnesses we spoke to, offered a rather contrasting account.
For instance, one witness said the bullion van made a turn off at Jinja highway towards Kyambogo University at around 8pm on Tuesday after the driver sensing that he was being trailed.
A double cabin pick-up truck carrying ISO operatives raced past a white Premio and blocked the bullion van roughly 200 metres off the Jinja highway. The operatives later told nearby police that they ordered occupants of the Premio out, but they declined, which prompted them to shoot.
A source familiar with the operation said there was no blood stain in the victims’ car. An officer at Kyambogo Lower Police Post responded to the crime scene following the shooting. The officer reportedly found one of the suspected robbers, whom a bullet hit on the head had passed on.
The other took a bullet to the chest and as he struggled to speak to the police officer, one of the ISO operatives allegedly ordered a colleague to “finish him off”.
He was shot again at least twice, and he died on the spot. The spies in another account said they shot at the men because they tried to escape.
Their bodies were, however, found slumped on one another and close to the Premio car from which they reportedly escaped.
Another witness said the spies, after the shooting, opened the bullion van, picked and stashed some of the cash in their car and loaded more on a boda boda rider that sped away.
ISO operatives also prevented police from taking possession of or escorting the van, which following the incident, would be an exhibit in the alleged robbery. They escorted it and the van was displayed at the ISO headquarters yesterday.
Ms Cathy Adengo, the Stanbic Bank head of corporate communications, said: “We confirm an incident occurred on Tuesday evening. However, the matter is still under investigation.”
Police in a statement issued yesterday said investigators had recovered a pistol, an AK-47 rifle and cartridges of spent bullets.
“Efforts are in place to put the puzzle together and find answers to what exactly happened,” Police spokesperson Fred Enanga noted, dovetailing with the contrast in narratives surrounding the incident.
The SFC spokesperson, Maj Jimmy Omara, confirmed that Pte Turyatunga was a former soldier under their unit but he deserted and later involved in criminal activities for which he had a stint in prison.
“After serving his jail term, he (Turyatunga) was released but he again conducted another robbery in which one person was killed along Masaka Road,” he said. A G4S security controller, who declined to reveal his name, said they “don’t have any information about” the incident. The Tuesday heist, one of the biggest in recent years, comes weeks after armed men held employees of a bank hostage at a city branch and assaulted some of them.