‘Lacklustre Security At Gem Show’
By Chrishanthi Christopher
The gem store owner who lost an expensive diamond at the gem exhibition held in Colombo last week has complained that the security at the exhibition was very slack and that it took some time before the security personnel were alerted about the theft.
He says that it took several minutes for the security personnel to arrive at the scene and by the time they came the man had dashed to the entrance of the building.
“The security was very poor and nobody attempted to stop the Chinese man who was fleeing to the entrance with the 1.5 carat diamond,” said Suresh de Silva, the gem merchant who lost the 1.8 million-rupee diamond at the BMICH.
De Silva said that there had been no police personnel around, no CCTV cameras, no metal detectors and not even weapon detectors at the FACET Sri Lanka 2012 Gem and Jewellery Exhibition which commenced on September 05. He said that two Chinese men came in and walked away freely with the diamond from his stall at the exhibition.
De Silva, owner of the booth Belgrade International gem store, describing the theft that took place on the opening day of the exhibition, said that in the morning around 9.45 a.m. when he was laying out the displays for the exhibition, he saw two rugged Chinese men walking around. “They looked like construction workers and I was surprised to see them inside that early and was wondering as to how they could have come in as the tickets had not been issued by that time”.
The two men then walked towards De Silva and had asked him to show diamonds that were over 2 carats in weight. De Silva had said that he did not have such large diamonds but offered to show them diamonds weighing around 1.5 carats. With that the two Chinese men had walked in and one sat at the table where the diamonds were to be displayed and the other sat at the other table which was on the side.
While they were examining the diamond, de Silva had turned his attention to adjust the light which he thought was dim. “I left the table only for a couple of seconds to adjust the light. When I came back the men had decided that they were not buying the diamonds”.
De Silva who had no suspicion at that point had taken the diamond back. After about 30 minutes the same two men had walked into the booth. At that time the opening ceremony had started with the chief guest delivering his speech. The two had asked to see another two stones of the same kind they had examined but had said that they did not want to see the stone they had already seen. Again they sat in the same order with the taller guy bargaining showing figures on a calculator while the other examined the gem.
“The tall guy kept distracting me when I tried to turn my attention towards the man who was examining the diamonds. Then I noticed that the man examining the gem had something in his hand and I became a little suspicious. Following this the man asked for the diamond lens to examine the diamond. I reached out for the magnifying glass but the tall man again distracted me asking for the certificate for the diamonds”.
At that point de Silva had become more suspicious and had decided it was a ruse to steal the diamonds. Then he had heard his wife shout out that the man had swallowed the diamonds. His wife had seen the man examining the diamond put something into his mouth.
Hearing her cries for help the other man at the side table fled even pushing the girl at the counter. “Everybody in the other stalls stood there and watched stunned. It took several seconds for them to realize what had happened,” said de Silva.
He said that it took 20 to 30 seconds for a security personnel to go after the culprit and by that time the Chinese man had dashed to the entrance and vanished into thin air.
“We alerted the security at the entrance but they did not stop the man. Within two minutes he would have been at the entrance of the BMICH,” said de Silva.
However, the man who was examining the diamonds could not escape and was caught. He had struggled to run and in the process had swallowed the stone he had put in his mouth.
De silva said that initially the belief was that the man had swallowed the original diamonds that he was examining. But later it was found that the two diamonds were intact and the men were not able to carry out the theft.
However, de Silva on an intuition went back and examined the diamond that the two men had seen on their first visit to the shop and rejected. To de Silva’s astonishment the diamond turned out to be an imitation.
“I immediately realized that the diamond had been switched while I turned to adjust the tube light during their first visit,” he said and added that the two men had switched the diamond while he turned away from them to adjust the light. They switched the diamond and gave back to me saying they were not interested.
They came in the second time also planning to do the same trick but got caught. When I became suspicious it was communicated to the man who had a fake stone in his hand ready for switching and he had no choice but to put it inside his mouth. Fortunately my wife and I saw him in the act. Maybe he did not intend swallowing it but wanted to prove that he had nothing in his hand.
However during the struggle the man had accidentally or intentionally swallowed it.
De Silva says that the man at that time had about US $1,400 and 10,000 Yuan and he agreed to pay for the diamond. “We were ready to issue him with a bill and finish the transaction but the person in charge of the BMICH assets, Akram Mansoor did not allow it. He wanted to press charges,” said de Silva.
“He insisted that the company press charges against the men,” he added.
De Silva said that they could not even claim insurance as the gems are covered only while in transit. “If not even I can switch the diamonds and claim insurance,” de Silva contends.
The Sunday Leader spoke to Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Association who were the principal organizers of the exhibition. The secretary of the association N. M. N. Azmi says that they had organized adequate security for the event.
“The BMICH always has a minimum of 200 police personnel. In addition to that we had organized a special force with two senior personnel – an OIC and a SP,” he said.
“Also we had 25 to 30 unarmed private security personnel with walkie talkies to cover the show. Moreover the CCTV cameras covered 95 per cent of the area,” he added.
“In spite of this tight security the incident happened because it was opening time and the Presidential Security Division and the Ministerial Security Division had arrived and everyone was concentrating on the opening ceremony,” he noted.
“Belgrade International booth was A10 and mine was A09 but I saw nobody. The show was not opened yet and the ethics is to not open the stalls for business. Stalls open only after the national anthem is sung and the rule is to follow them,” he pointed out.
Explaining how the men had come in even before the show had started, Azmi said that foreigners were not checked for tickets as many of them purchase tickets online. “They walk in free,” he said.
“If we harass them they won’t come and there will be no sales – last year the Chinese, Mongolians and Koreans were the biggest buyers at our exhibition,” he observed.
Now it transpires that both the organizer Sri Lanka Gem & jewellery Association (SLG&JA) and the chief sponsor National Gem & Jewellery Authority (NG&JA) do not want to claim that the men who carried out the theft are of Chinese origin.
“They were foreigners with Mongoloid features and they could have come from Mongolia, the Philippines or from any of those countries with forged Chinese passports,” says Azmi of SLG&JA.
Questioned about the inefficiency of the security personnel who allowed the accomplice to get away with the loot, he said that the security personnel were busy and also that ‘nobody catches foreigners’.
NG&JA, Director General, Nimal Bandara also said that he was ‘not sure’ but the two men looked like Chinese nationals and they possessed Chinese Passports.
“I cannot be 100 per cent sure that they are of Chinese origin,” he said.
Commenting further, he said that Sri Lanka had a good relationship with China and that the margin of revenue we received from China was huge from those exhibitions. “We hold around six exhibitions in China and get more money from China,” and added that the NG&JA was only a funding machine for the exhibition and acted as a regulatory body to boost trade for the country.
Bandara also pointed out that he did not want to jeopardize the good relationship China and Sri Lanka had in the gem and jewellery trade.
The Police Media Spokesman’s office, when contacted, said that there had been no breakthrough and that they were still on the trail of the Chinese man who ran away with the diamond.