- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

HONG KONG (AP) — Safe-deposit boxes from a bank branch in Hong Kong were taken away and crushed as scrap metal, leaving customers angry at the loss of their valued possessions, executives acknowledged Wednesday.

Embarrassed bosses at Singapore-based DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Ltd. say they will repay customers for their losses after 83 boxes filled with valuables were removed Saturday by a contractor during renovations and then dumped and compressed in a junkyard.

Workers scrambled to recover cash, crucial documents and smashed jewelry from the scrap heap, but DBS said it’s too early to say what its liabilities will be. Local press agencies have predicted the liabilities will amount to millions of dollars.

“It’s a very unfortunate and regrettable incident,” DBS spokeswoman Catherine Ong said Wednesday.

Miss Ong acknowledged that the bank might face difficulties in ascertaining exactly what had been inside the boxes. The bank thinks the mix-up was the result of human error, with no foul play suspected, Miss Ong said.

As soon as the problem was discovered, bank employees and employees of a Japanese safe-deposit box company, Kumihara, rushed to the scrapyard to see what could be salvaged, Miss Ong said.

“We have recovered some of the valuables like certificates, some cash and jewelry, and the recovery process is still going on,” Miss Ong said. Some of the jewelry had been smashed.

The 83 boxes were removed, along with 837 empty ones, as the bank was expanding the size of a local branch and replacing older, small safe-deposit boxes with new, larger ones.

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