Brazen thieves tar­get Cape Town guest houses

The Sunday Independent - - News - LUKE FOLB

PO­LICE be­lieve a gang of thieves are tar­get­ing guest houses and ho­tels and mak­ing off with trav­ellers’ lug­gage, elec­tron­ics and other valu­ables.

The op­por­tunis­tic per­pe­tra­tors call the guest house us­ing fake for­eign ac­cents and pose as guests.

They tell staff an emer­gency has arisen and they needed to check out.

They say that, as they are head­ing straight to the air­port, some­one will col­lect their lug­gage.

The gang re­cently tar­geted a guest house in Green Point.

Owner of Avatara Guest House Cher Poz­nanovich said she had not ex­pe­ri­enced such an in­ci­dent in the past nine years of run­ning the es­tab­lish­ment.

On Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 10, an Aus­trian cou­ple booked into the guest house for a 10-night stay, but they de­cided to go away for two nights dur­ing their stay.

On Sun­day, Fe­bru­ary 18, the day they were due to re­turn, a woman phoned the guest house and told em­ployee God­win Mun­yama to pack their bags as there was a fam­ily emer­gency and they were head­ing to Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

Later that day the gen­uine Aus­trian cou­ple re­turned to find their lug­gage had been stolen and Mun­yama im­me­di­ately took them to the Sea Point po­lice sta­tion where a case of theft was opened. All that was stolen was cloth­ing. But later that day the brazen thieves called Mun­yama again say­ing that he had for­got­ten to pack their elec­tronic equip­ment.

Mun­yama called the po­lice and a plan was made to ar­rest the per­pe­tra­tors.

In­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer Sergeant Wayne Hen­der­son dressed him­self in civil­ian cloth­ing and drove an un­marked po­lice car dur­ing the op­er­a­tion.

“First they wanted me to go to the air­port and then… the lo­ca­tion changed to a ho­tel in Wood­stock.

“I waited out­side the ho­tel for an hour and got an­other phone call to say I should leave it at re­cep­tion but I said I couldn’t be­cause it was valu­able elec­tron­ics.”

Hen­der­son said he thought the per­pe­tra­tors might have caught wind of the plan.

Po­lice be­lieve the thieves could be linked to rental car com­pa­nies be­cause they re­quire de­tails about where trav­ellers are stay­ing and are able to track the cars.

Po­lice say that sim­i­lar cases had oc­curred at a few of the city’s ho­tels and guest houses in re­cent months and were be­lieved to have been per­pe­trated by the same peo­ple.

Poz­nanovich said she had since asked her staff to be more vig­i­lant. She was away when the in­ci­dent oc­curred.

She said Mun­yama ex­plained the caller was fran­tic and had a Ger­man ac­cent.

“We got a fran­tic call from a lady with a Ger­man ac­cent to say there had been a death in the fam­ily and they had man­aged to get a flight out of the coun­try.

“If we would pack their lug­gage they would send a taxi to col­lect it, as they were al­ready at the Cape Town air­port.

“My as­sis­tant could not find any­one to call and so obliged.

“He luck­ily thought to take a pic­ture of the lug­gage, but, since they did know key de­tails of the guests, he sent the lug­gage off.”

Her guests threat­ened to sue for e7 000, claim­ing that elec­tron­ics had been stolen.

“I am cov­ered through my in­sur­ance, but it has been a very trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us,” Poz­nanovich said.

Fed­er­ated Hos­pi­tal­ity As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Africa spokesman Jeff Rosen­berg said: “We ad­vise our mem­bers to be forth­right with their ques­tion­ing and err on the side of cau­tion.

“As a coun­try and in­dus­try we are do­ing all in our con­trol to en­sure the se­cu­rity and safety of our vis­i­tors.”

No ar­rests have been made.

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