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Explainer: How bank safe boxes work

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By LEONARD ONYANGO
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A safe deposit box is a strong storage container maintained in the vault area of a bank and rented to bank clients for safekeeping of their valuables. These boxes are said to be resistant to fire, floods and theft, and their contents are covered by the bank’s insurer.

What are safe boxes in banks used for / What can be kept in them?

The safe boxes are rented by clients wishing to store vital documents such as logbooks, title deeds, marriage certificates, insurance policies, jewellery, foreign currency, educational certificates among others.

However, clients are discouraged from storing essential documents such as Wills and passports. It’s advisable to keep a Will with a lawyer for easy access by family members upon one’s death. What can be kept in the vault is a copy of the same.

Do banks allow cash to be kept in safe boxes?

Cash can be kept in the boxes but it does not earn interest.

How are they operated and who has access?

One key is issued to the client for access while the bank retains a copy. The two keys are needed to access the contents of the box so both the customer and a bank staff have to be present to open the safe.

Each bank has its own guidelines on who can access the safe box. At the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA), for example, safe deposit lockers can be operated by up to two people including an authorised agent.

Do banks verify the contents of safe boxes?

Banks do not check the contents of safety deposit boxes. This is because since the contents are private and confidential, a client signs an indemnity document that states that should authorities find anything illicit, the person to be prosecute or held fully liable is the client and not the bank.

This is why a safety deposit is usually covered by a cash margin or deposit in case of any eventualities or penalties.

What is the procedure for getting a safe box at a bank?

The client expresses interest in renting the box and then pays for the service after fulfilling all the legal requirements and following laid down procedures for the same.

The requirements vary depending on whether the safe box is intended for an individual, a company, a partnership, a club or an association.

For the CBA, an individual is required to submit a duly completed and signed application form, original Kenyan national identity card or valid passport and the photocopies for each signatory.

A limited company is required to submit a board resolution, signed by at least two directors, stating the intention to lease a locker, the required size and the signing/operating mandate.

How much does this service cost?

The Co-operative Bank of Kenya offers a standard annual fee of Sh3,000 while Stanbic, CBA and I&M rates are dependent on the size of the box, which is determined by the bulk of the contents.

Stanbic charges its clients between Sh2,400 and Sh6,000, exclusive of a 16 per cent value added tax. Standard Chartered Bank halted the service in 2010.

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I&M safe deposit clients are not subjected to any charges. Rather, they are required to place an interest-free security with the bank. The amount differs depending on the size of the box. 

Clients are also required to hold personal accounts with the bank.  The deposit ranges from Sh80,000 to Sh300,000 and the money is refundable.

For CBA, the annual cost ranges from Sh2,000 to Sh5,800 depending on the size of the box. The client pays Sh200 per visit and is required to deposit a fee of Sh10,000 which is non-interest bearing and refundable.

After how long are safe boxes considered abandoned?

According to the Unclaimed Financial Assets Act, of 2011, uncashed bankers cheques and contents in safe deposit boxes that are unclaimed for more than two years are classified as unclaimed assets.

The assets are surrendered to the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority (UFAA), which keeps the cash in the Central Bank of Kenya’s trust account.

Assets covered by the Act also include bank cash balances, insurance policies, utility deposits and court awards abandoned for between two and five years.

What are the advantages of safe boxes?

Unlike home safes, a safe deposit box is secure as it has a smoke detectors and surveillance cameras and is made of fire resistant materials.

Kenyans living abroad are some of those opting for safe deposit boxes as there is the assurance that their important documents will not fall into the wrong hands.

Are there concerns about safe boxes?

In 2018, John Mututho, a politician and former chairman of the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) boss, asked the CBK to conduct an audit of bank safes, saying they could be holding fraudulently acquired wealth.

Mr Mututho expressed fear that some banks might be holding on to corruptly acquired cash.

“While we should be worrying about loot stashed in foreign accounts, we should not forget to probe local avenues that can be used to hide the cash,” he said.



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US judge rejects transfers, release from virus-hit Chicago jail

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By AFP
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A Chicago judge on Thursday rejected a bid by inmates to be released or transferred from a jail housing 4,500 detainees which has emerged as one of the largest coronavirus clusters in the US.

Cook County Jail in the US’s third-largest city has 276 inmates who have tested positive for Covid-19, along with 172 staff members of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the facility.

However, the jail acknowledged those numbers are likely an undercount, as the majority of its inmates have not been tested.

The jail has seen one prisoner death so far from complications of the virus, but lawyers had filed a petition before a federal court for mass transfers.

In a 37-page ruling handed down on Thursday, District Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to implement new policies to keep inmates safe but rejected the call for them to be moved en masse.

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Kennelly acknowledged the sheriff’s challenge, calling it “an extraordinary difficult task,” but ordered soap and sanitizer provided to inmates and staff, and facemasks for inmates in quarantine with Covid-19 symptoms.

The judge noted the infection rate in Cook County was 1.56 per 1,000 people. In the jail, as of Monday, it was 50 per 1,000 people, he wrote.

The lawsuit, filed April 3, sought a mass release or transfer of elderly and medically compromised inmates.

Dart has said his office has already taken steps to protect inmates and staff, while also releasing several hundred inmates charged with or convicted of non-violent crimes.

Dart said his dilemma is that 70 percent of inmates have either been convicted or are accused of violent crimes.

Jeffery Pendleton, 59, who was being held on drug and weapons charges, appears to have died from complications of COVID-19, Dart has said.

Pendleton, who had 15 previous convictions, including as a sex offender, was jailed because he could not come up with $5,000 — or ten percent of the $50,000 bond set by a judge.

The Cook County Public Defender’s Office filed an emergency motion for Pendleton’s release on March 26 but was denied, four days before he was hospitalized after testing positive for the virus.

“He was and always will be presumed innocent. He died awaiting for his day in court. He should have been sent home,” tweeted Amy Campanelli, an attorney at the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a group that advocates for the elimination of the cash bond system.

Along with releasing more inmates, Dart said on his website that he had taken steps to protect them. Measures included early screening and testing of detainees, and increasing availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies.

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“Detainees who test positive are isolated and receive thorough medical attention and cellmates are quarantined and monitored,” he said.

Dart also banned inmates’ families from visiting and requires attorneys and clergy members to be screened for virus symptoms.

Incoming inmates are housed in tiers where staff observe for symptoms for seven days before they are transferred to the general population. Cleaning has also increased through the jail and inmates are being educated about preventative hygiene.

Yet, those actions, along with creating an 500-bed quarantine facility and moving inmates from double cells to single cells to increase social distancing, did not stop the spread of the virus — nor has it satisfied staff who feel slighted by the focus on inmate safety.

“We have 150 staff members who have tested positive for the virus and everyone is saying we should release all the inmates. They get released, yet we have to stay,” said one sheriff’s deputy who has worked in the jail for nine years and spoke on condition of anonymity.

As for the inmates, he said only 60 have been moved to the 500-bed quarantine facility. Another worker at the jail confirmed that figure.

The sheriff’s deputy added that jail staff did not receive protective gear for two weeks after the first cases were identified at the facility and fears he might bring it home to his wife and children.

“Bringing the virus home is my biggest fear. I have nowhere to isolate away from my family unless I sleep in my car.”

The Cook County Sheriff’s spokesman denied that staff have not been provided with sanitation supplies or protective equipment, adding that front-line workers can get tested onsite.

“We are very concerned about the health and safety of our staff,” he said in a statement to AFP. “To say they don’t have supplies and don’t have an avenue to get them is completely false.”

“We remain in daily contact with the unions that represent staff members, and will continue to work with them to protect our employees and fulfill our obligation to provide a safe, secure jail.”

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In Jerusalem, Christians mark a sombre Easter

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AFP

By AFP
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Eggs on the table and a toy rabbit on the dresser — with a few decorations, Palestinian Christian Sawsan Bitar attempts to salvage some normality from an Easter overshadowed by coronavirus.

In the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City that Bitar calls home, roads are deserted and most shops have been closed for two weeks.

All cultural sites in the Holy Land are shuttered, regardless of their religious affiliation, as authorities seek to forestall the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

Christians will be prevented from congregating for the Easter service, whether this coming Sunday — as in the case of Bitar and fellow Catholic worshippers — or a week later on April 19, in line with the Orthodox Easter.

Despite wars and uprisings, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected, has not been closed over Easter for at least a century, according to Palestinian historian Johnny Mansour.

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Bitar, who is in her sixties, says it is “depressing” that she will not be able to celebrate Easter in church.

Israel — which in 1967 occupied east Jerusalem and later annexed it — has confirmed over 9,700 coronavirus infections, with 79 dead from the respiratory disease.

On the Palestinian side, more than 250 cases have been confirmed, with one death.

Jerusalem is usually the vibrant heart of global Easter celebrations.

Last year, more than 25,000 people gathered near the Holy Sepulchre to attend Palm Sunday mass, which marks the start of the Easter week.

This year, the cobbled streets of the Christian quarter were silent and its dozens of churches were empty for Palm Sunday on April 5.

A lookalike of Jesus, with long hair, a white tunic and bare feet, praying with his bible on the steps of the church of the Sepulchre, cut a lonely figure.

Behind the heavy wooden doors of this holiest of Christian places, there were only 15 members of the clergy in attendance, said Ibrahim Shomali, spokesman for the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

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“But despite the difficult circumstances, there can be positives,” Shomali told AFP.

Streaming the mass direct online, 60,000 people watched, he said.

This Sunday, Easter mass will be broadcast on television and on social networks.

Only six monks will be present in the church, Shomali said.

Watching the mass online will be the only way Francis Gharfah will celebrate Easter this year.

A Palestinian from east Jerusalem, he left his usual decorations in their boxes and chose not to prepare traditional pastries.

“The situation is dramatic,” he told AFP, saying he fears for his job at an NGO due to the virus.

He was “very touched” by the images of Pope Francis celebrating Palm Sunday in an empty Saint Peter’s Basilica, accompanied only by a few religious men and women — each of them perched on separate benches.

“People are thirsty for spirituality,” said Shomali, who finds great solace in a “return of faith” in this dark time.

Bitar attempts to remain upbeat.

“Everything happens for a reason. I hope that we will be different people, that we will appreciate things differently” once the coronavirus crisis ends.

To mark this Easter, Bitar laid out a cloth printed with small yellow chicks and multi-coloured eggs at the entrance to her home.

Her family has created an improvised photo studio, her daughter and grandchildren squeezing into pictures surrounded by a rabbit and flowers.

But all the photos in the world will not be the same as attending church for Easter.

“We live five minutes from the Holy Sepulchre and we cannot go there,” she said sadly.

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US man arrested after beating mom over toilet paper

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AFP

By AFP
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A California man was arrested this week after allegedly punching his mother — who had apparently hidden the family’s stash of toilet paper because of his excessive use of the hot commodity.

Police were called to the family’s home in Saugus, north of Los Angeles, at 3am Monday following a dispute over the whereabouts of the hygiene product, Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, told a local news service.

The argument between Adrian Yan and his mother escalated and he allegedly ended up punching her, Miller said. He was detained on suspicion of battery, she added.

The mother told deputies that she hid the toilet paper from her 26-year-old son because he used too much of it at a time when the product is in short supply because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Miller said the lockdown imposed across much of the country because of the virus has led to an increase in incidents of family violence.

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“It was to be expected, it’s happening everywhere,” she said.

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