CUSTOMERS of Republic Bank’s (RBL) Couva branch are threatening legal action to recover the value of jewellery and family heirlooms they lost when the branch was broken into during the long holiday weekend last month.
Attorneys for more than a dozen customers so far have written to the bank alleging RBL breached its contractual obligations with them.
The bank has been given 28 days to respond to the letter from attorneys Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Matthew Allahar, who said they are prepared to negotiate for each client for reimbursement. Otherwise, they said, they will approach the court for damages totalling the value of the items lost in the break-in.
In response to queries by Newsday on Friday for an update on the investigations and a response to the legal letter, the bank said, “As this is an ongoing police investigation, we are unable to comment any further at this time.”
Between May 27 and 30, the bank’s branch at Southern Main Road, Couva, was broken into. Criminals smashed through a concrete wall and gained access to the vault, which contained safety deposit boxes and records belonging to the bank.
The police have promised to give details of the items taken during the break-in at a later date. However, since then, they have issued no further updates.
In a release on May 31, when the break-in was discovered, the bank confirmed the incident and said an investigation had been launched and it was “co-operating fully with the authorities.”
It added, “We can confirm that all customers’ records and files remain secured and the branch’s cash vault was not breached. As this is an ongoing investigation, the bank will be limiting any further statement on this matter at this time.”
However, Taklalsingh said the lawyers’ clients have lost large amounts of jewellery, cash and other valuables, including heirlooms, amounting to millions of dollars.
He said each of the bank’s customers would have entered a contract with RBL to provide safety deposit-box services.
“The contractual relationship between my clients and RBL took the form of a licence agreement.
“As you are aware, it was an expressed term of the contract that should RBL use ‘due diligence to deny access of any unauthorised person to said safe, the bank will not be responsible in any way for the aforesaid box or the contents thereof.’
“…It is our respectful view that an institution such as RBL, which offers safety deposit locker services, ought to have ensured that its facility was properly secured, monitored, and equipped to respond to threats promptly and in a manner to mitigate loss.
Taklalsingh alleged RBL may have acted “negligently and/or breached its contractual obligation of ‘due diligence” by failing to ensure there were sufficiently secure premises to house the safety deposit boxes; failed to prevent unauthorised access to them; failed to implement a properly functioning sensor system to alert when there was an unauthorised breach; failed to have a network of cameras in the area where the boxes are kept; and failed to have a proper response system when an unauthorised breach was detected.
“As a result of these failures, my clients have lost large amounts of jewellery, cash, and other valuables, including family heirlooms that have been passed down for generations.
“As you may appreciate, some of these items were of tremendous sentimental value and reflected the historicity of our clients’ ancestry and family lineage.
“For instance, some of our clients have lost their mangal sutras, a gift of immense significance in Hinduism sometimes passed down through generations, which is often the first gift received by a Hindu bride from her husband symbolic of their marital bond.”
Taklalsingh also referred to beras and mohars as some of the items lost. (A mohar is a gold coin or necklace adorned with gold coins used as marriage payment by a groom to his bride or bride’s father.)
“The loss of these items and family heirlooms have triggered very intense grief and anxiety amongst our clients. These pieces of jewellery not only represented evidence of hard work and wealth acquired over the years for these families but also stood for the continued tradition of investment in precious metals and gems which help preserve cultural identity for future generations of family members whilst appreciating monetary value.
He said further, “as a result of this ordeal and losses suffered by our clients owing to RBL’s negligence,” the attorney’s clients were now faced with the additional inconvenience of replacing or retrieving documents stowed in their safety deposit boxes.
He said it was hoped that the bank would “adopt a humane, fair, and sensitive approach to this issue, especially considering that the losses suffered are not solely pecuniary, but emotionally traumatic.”