ANATOMY OF A HEIST

Holes in se­cu­rity ar­range­ments at OR Tambo, as well a tip-off that was ap­par­ently ig­nored, c oul d mean that Wed­nes­day’s heist was an in­side job

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU and ABRAM MASHEGO poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

It has emerged that Air­ports Com­pany SA (Acsa) was aware of the im­mi­nent mul­ti­mil­lion-rand heist at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Wed­nes­day, but it was too late for se­cu­rity of­fi­cials to act when alerted be­cause the rob­bers had al­ready made their way into high-se­cu­rity perime­ters. Holes in the se­cu­rity ar­range­ments on the day also worked out to be highly con­ve­nient for the rob­bers’ smooth op­er­a­tion as they made off with mil­lions of rands in for­eign cur­rency des­tined for the UK with­out fir­ing a sin­gle shot.

It took the rob­bers just 20 min­utes to get in, steal the money and drive off.

The ab­sence of the po­lice at the time the air­port heist was pulled off has now come un­der scru­tiny, rais­ing sus­pi­cions of a pos­si­ble in­side job or col­lu­sion.

The gang used North Gate 1 – con­sid­ered to be one of the most se­cure en­try points – which serves as an en­trance for pro­to­col con­voys trans­port­ing VIPs such as Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, min­is­ters and diplo­mats.

This gate ap­pears to be a favourite en­try point for crim­i­nals – it was also used by rob­bers in a 2006 heist when about R100 mil­lion was stolen from the cargo wing of the air­port.

A se­cu­rity of­fi­cer who works at the air­port said: “Reshe­bile Avi­a­tion and Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices, which con­trols ac­cess, was con­tacted by the Acsa con­trol room at 7.27pm, in­form­ing its of­fi­cers to be on high alert as there was a pos­si­ble rob­bery threat.

“I don’t un­der­stand why the call came in at the time when the rob­bery was al­ready un­der way. How does it hap­pen that Acsa did not go through their cam­eras and call for se­cu­rity to be beefed up at the gate, which is no­to­ri­ous for rob­beries? Every­thing was con­ve­nient for the rob­bers as there were only mod­er­ately armed se­cu­rity guards to over­come.”

In its ac­count, Acsa said the con­voy of rob­bers pulled up at the re­stricted ac­cess North Gate 1 at 7.23pm. It is ex­plained in the same me­dia state­ment that the gang ex­ited through the same gate at 7.45pm.

The se­cu­rity of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day evening started off badly in terms of se­cu­rity ar­range­ments, with po­lice of­fi­cers fail­ing to re­port for duty at their nor­mal posts.

He said there would nor­mally be two po­lice of­fi­cers and four Reshe­bile of­fi­cers at North Gate 1.

“The po­lice of­fi­cers did not pitch on the day and only one fe­male se­cu­rity guard was armed with a 9mm pis­tol when the rob­bers pulled up to what is sup­posed to be the most se­cured gate. They stood no chance against heav­ily armed rob­bers car­ry­ing au­to­matic ri­fles,” he said.

The same guard be­lieves the po­lice of­fi­cers were also in­formed of the rob­bery threat, but nev­er­the­less failed to guard their posts.

City Press has also learnt from an of­fi­cial at the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Direc­torate that the po­lice were aware of the rob­bery even be­fore it hap­pened, but some­how chose to “take it lightly or to­tally ig­nore the tip-off”.

In the ab­sence of po­lice, a bakkie with po­lice mark­ings, two other ve­hi­cles fit­ted with blue lights and a few men dressed in blue uni­forms worked as a per­fect ruse for the rob­bers.

“They ar­rived at the gate and got their ve­hi­cles – a marked po­lice bakkie, a Ford Fo­cus and a MercedesBenz – reg­is­tered. The prob­lem started when they were asked to get out of their ve­hi­cles so they could be searched and ver­i­fied. It was then that they pulled their guns and or­dered the se­cu­rity of­fi­cers on to the ground,” the se­cu­rity of­fi­cer said.

“Two more se­cu­rity of­fi­cers ar­rived and were or­dered to join the oth­ers on the ground. Two of the rob­bers were left guard­ing the six se­cu­rity of­fi­cers while the rest of the gang pro­ceeded in­side, where they pounced on Guard­force In­ter­na­tional Trans­porta­tion se­cu­rity guards.”

The se­cu­rity of­fi­cer said it was “con­ve­nient that po­lice of­fi­cers who nor­mally es­cort valu­able cargo from the vault to the air­craft with Guard­force did not ar­rive on Wed­nes­day, leav­ing se­cu­rity guards to do it alone”.

“I be­lieve Guard­force’s of­fi­cers were caught off-guard when they saw peo­ple who looked like po­lice of­fi­cers ar­riv­ing. They re­laxed be­cause they had been ex­pect­ing them, not know­ing the sup­posed po­lice of­fi­cers were ac­tu­ally rob­bers. They were also threat­ened with firearms,” he said.

Air cargo op­er­a­tors com­mit­tee chair­per­son Al­wyn Raut­en­bach said that, while it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of all stake­hold­ers, se­cu­rity had im­proved at the air­port. He added that the heist could have been made pos­si­ble be­cause “the crime was com­mit­ted by po­lice looka­likes”.

He said a to­tal clam­p­down on crime was “dif­fi­cult [in cases where guards be­lieve] that it is the po­lice who are com­ing in”.

In their wake, the rob­bers have left a com­pli­cated puzzle for in­ves­ti­ga­tors to put to­gether in what seems to be a well-co­or­di­nated heist aided by sev­eral anom­alies.

From the al­leged ab­sence of the usual po­lice es­cort, lack of video footage ev­i­dence and a power out­age at the time of the heist, the plan seemed to have had scores of ten­ta­cles with strong sug­ges­tions of in­side help or col­lu­sion.

Acsa did not re­spond to ques­tions about al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing the ac­tual heist, in­clud­ing the sug­ges­tion that it knew about the pos­si­ble rob­bery threat be­fore­hand.

“All mat­ters re­lated to the rob­bery are in the hands of the po­lice. Acsa is there­fore not able to com­ment on claims and al­le­ga­tions about the rob­bery while the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion is pro­ceed­ing,” Acsa said in its re­sponse to City Press’ ques­tions.

Act­ing po­lice com­mis­sioner Kho­motso Phahlane played his cards close to chest, giv­ing lit­tle in­for­ma­tion, but said that “an in­side job or col­lu­sion could not be ruled out”. He de­nied, how­ever, that the po­lice had re­ceived a tip-off be­fore­hand.

He did not give any in­for­ma­tion about how the ac­tual heist took place, urg­ing the me­dia to af­ford the po­lice the op­por­tu­nity to in­ves­ti­gate the crime.

Mean­while, Acsa spokesper­son Re­fentse Shin­ners has de­nied a state­ment by an eye­wit­ness that there was a power out­age be­tween 6pm and 8pm, dur­ing which the dar­ing heist took place.

While po­lice have not dis­closed the amount stolen, there have been var­i­ous re­ports, cit­ing amounts of be­tween R24 mil­lion and R200 mil­lion.

The po­lice of­fi­cers did not pitch on the day and only one fe­male se­cu­rity guard was armed with a 9mm pis­tol when the rob­bers pulled in at what is sup­posed to be the most se­cured gate

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