‘PRINCESS’ ON THE RUN

The fake royal rip­ping off SA jew­ellery stores

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER

When beau­ti­fully made-up Warda Ibrahim swanned into a plush Umh­langa jew­ellery store in July with her en­tourage in tow, the sales at­ten­dants on hand be­lieved they were about to strike gold.

Ibrahim was dis­creetly in­tro­duced as a princess from Ye­men who had cash to splash.

What the sales staff didn’t re­alise was that the el­e­gant Ibrahim wasn’t roy­alty but a wanted theft sus­pect, ex­e­cut­ing a care­fully planned heist.

Be­fore they re­alised it, Ibrahim and her ac­com­plices, in­clud­ing a six-year-old boy, made off with a five-carat di­a­mond and a Rolex watch, to­gether val­ued at nearly R1mil­lion.

Ibrahim, 28 — who is be­lieved to be of Ye­meni de­scent but has a South African pass­port and has lived in May­fair, Jo­han­nes­burg — has van­ished into thin air, de­spite be­ing on bail of R2 000 for the al­leged theft of cash in June from a mass re­tailer’s till in Brak­pan, Jo­han­nes­burg.

En­ter Dur­ban pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors Brad and Esme Nathanson, who have been hired by the jew­ellery store to track down the di­a­mond and the watch.

To­gether with the po­lice, they have un­cov­ered a slick op­er­a­tion be­lieved to be headed by “Un­cle Haji”, an el­derly South African who is sus­pected of us­ing women and chil­dren from Ye­men to steal any­thing from dog de­worm­ing med­i­ca­tion to de­signer dresses and di­a­monds.

“With the Umh­langa rob­bery, they visited an­other branch of the jew­ellery store a day be­fore, claim­ing to be roy­alty,” said Brad Nathanson. “The owner of­fered to show them his col­lec­tion in Umh­langa, but asked that they come a few days later as he was play­ing golf.

“It seems the sus­pects picked up on this and made their move while the owner was on the golf course.”

Ac­com­pa­nied by three ac­com­plices, Ibrahim en­tered the high-end store pre­tend­ing to be a blue-blood from the Mid­dle East.

“She was in­tro­duced as a princess from

They crowded the shop. Un­cle Haji was even car­ry­ing a child to dis­tract the staff. They made off with cash and es­caped in a black Mercedes-Benz Brad and Esme Nathanson Dur­ban pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors

Ye­men, who could not speak English,” said Nathanson. “Un­cle Haji acted as the in­ter­preter. From the CCTV footage we could see how one at­ten­dant was dis­tracted by an­other woman and a six-year-old boy in the party while Un­cle Haji and Warda worked on the owner’s son, who had dis­played the jew­ellery on the counter.

“We watched the footage over and over. While he was busy talk­ing and trans­lat­ing, she got away with the di­a­mond and the watch by sleight of hand.

“She’s an easy dis­trac­tion, be­cause she is so beau­ti­ful.”

KwaZulu-Na­tal po­lice con­firmed they were look­ing for the woman, also known as Wa­reeda Mo­hamed.

“A case of theft is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Dur­ban North SAPS. A war­rant of ar­rest has been is­sued against the sus­pect,” a po­lice state­ment said.

Nathanson’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions led him to a flat in May­fair where Ibrahim and her ac­com­plices are be­lieved to be liv­ing.

“When we hit that flat with the po­lice, we were shocked. It was like a ware­house of stuff, from makeup to hair irons, cloth­ing, tin­foil, about 40 boxes of tooth­paste, dog de­wormer, cos­tume jew­ellery, per­fumes — you name it, it was there.

“We also found boxes of locks, which we be­lieve they use to train the women to pick. Ev­ery­thing is fair game for them, they don’t dis­crim­i­nate.”

Nathanson has also been shown se­cu­rity footage by a Jo­han­nes­burg con­ve­nience store owner who was hit by the gang, this time in­clud­ing two young girls.

“They crowded the shop. Un­cle Haji was even car­ry­ing a child to dis­tract the staff. They made off with cash and es­caped in a black Mercedes-Benz,” said Nathanson.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­turned to the May­fair flat three times, but there was no sign of any­one.

“They walk around with US dol­lars, so ev­ery­body en­ter­tains them,” said Nathanson.

Na­tional po­lice spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo con­firmed that Ibrahim was on the run and fac­ing a theft charge in Brak­pan. “It is al­leged that the sus­pect, by the name of Warda Ibrahim, came to the till at Makro in Brak­pan to pay for some items.

“While the teller was help­ing her, she took a R200 note from the till and said she wanted to see what a South African R200 note looked like.

“The teller, who is a com­plainant in this case, took back the note.

“It was later dis­cov­ered that an amount of R1 795 is miss­ing from the till. It is al­leged that the CCTV footage shows the sus­pect tak­ing the miss­ing money.”

Naidoo said Warda had been ar­rested and ap­peared in court, where she was granted bail. She was due to reap­pear in court on Au­gust 14, but ab­sconded and is still on the run.

Warda Ibrahim

Un­cle Haji

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