Police in Prey Veng province are searching for a gang of armed robbers who made off with thousands of dollars in cash on Sunday after holding the family of a jewelry store owner hostage and opening fire at police in a violent heist that a local official said was “like a movie.”
Equipped with AK-47 rifles and a handgun, the six suspects showed up at the home of 44-year-old Sao Yuk in Komchay Mear district’s Seang Khveang commune at about 7 p.m. on Sunday, according to commune police chief San Som An.
Mr. Yuk lives with his wife and adult son inside a walled compound that includes his house and a separate building that contains the jewelry shop and a mobile payment kiosk, Mr. Som An said.
The police chief said the intruders initially held a gun to the head of a neighbor and ordered him to call Mr. Yuk and ask that the gate be opened. When the neighbor refused, he added, the suspects beat him unconscious, restrained two other witnesses and scaled the wall.
“After they got into the house, the robbers pointed guns at the owner, tied up his son and his wife, then shouted at him for money,” Mr. Som An said.
“At first, the owner of the Wing kiosk would not give money to the robbers, and they hit him with the handgun,” he said, explaining that when the suspects threatened to hurt Mr. Yuk’s family, the man tearfully gave up the combination to his safe.
Mr. Som An said two commune police officers arrived on the scene at about 8 p.m. after being alerted to the robbery in progress by another neighbor. When the officers showed up, he said, a member of the gang standing sentry outside the compound taunted them, yelling: “If you want to die just come at me!” before opening fire with an assault rifle.
“The robber shot at police with an AK-47, then police shot back at them,” he said, clarifying that officers only fired into the air, for fear of harming local residents.
When the officers retreated under a barrage of bullets, the suspects fled with 14 million riel (about $3,500), $700 in U.S. bills and 1 damlung worth of gold necklaces, he added.
Commune chief Sorn San described the robbers as fearless, and said the victims were lucky to lose only money and gold.
“They fought police without fear,” he said. “It was like a movie where the robbers and police are shooting at each other.”
Sunday’s was the third armed robbery targeting the owner of a Wing money transfer kiosk in recent weeks.
On December 12, a group of men toting AK-47s shot a Wing operator dead inside her house in Pursat province before fleeing with more than $10,000 worth of cash and gold jewelry. In a separate incident on the same day, four armed men broke into the home of a Wing operator in Kandal province, beating the man’s family and stealing $30,000 in cash and $6,500 worth of gold.
Frandara Khuon, director of operations for Wing, said kiosk operators receive two days of training on risk management and personal safety, during which they are discouraged from keeping large sums of cash on the premises.
“Wing ensures that all of our agents are fully trained in terms of security procedures relating to cash management including CCTV cameras within individual cash express outlets,” Ms. Khuon said in an email on Monday.
Reached later by telephone, Ms. Khuon said that while CCTV cameras only recorded video during operating hours, Wing cooperated routinely with police officials to make its kiosks as safe as possible.
“We work with the Ministry of Interior; they get our database and also provide us constructive feedback on how we can improve,” she said.
Prey Veng provincial police chief Sreng Chea and the Komchay Mear district police chief said their forces were investigating Sunday’s robbery, but that they were too busy to comment further.
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)