JOhannesburg - An investment banker linked to the Arab royal family returned to his Sandton hotel room to find his safe looted – allegedly by Holiday Inn hotel staff who made off with R1.9 million in cash.
What irked Farid Alshabbar even more was that hotel management told him to keep quiet about the Saturday night incident, discouraging him from calling the police and offering him free accommodation.
The 68-year-old man said he had gone out for dinner on Saturday night, returning to the hotel room about an hour later to “fetch more money”, when he made the discovery.
“My money was gone. They were so stupid they left the 1kg gold pellets (worth $46 000, or R372 160) inside the safe,” Alshabbar said, explaining that the pellets were bought as samples to take back to Bahrain.
What made Alshabbar suspect hotel staffers was that his safe was locked when he returned to the hotel and there were no signs that it had been forced open.
He believes the hotel’s head of security, who is on the run from the police, and a porter, who has since been arrested, might have memorised his PIN when he changed it three weeks ago. He identified the security head only as Victor, while the police have declined to divulge the man’s name.
Alshabbar had earlier punched in a wrong PIN when using the safe and had asked security personnel to help open it for him. He believes it was while resetting the PIN that the men got hold of the new one. The security head is believed to be one of the security personnel who had helped reset the PIN.
“Police checked the occurrence book and discovered that Victor had been among the people in my room when the code was changed,” he said.
“Victor” was caught on CCTV footage entering the hotel room at around 6.10pm – about five minutes before Alshabbar returned to his room on Saturday night.
“He used a porter’s card to get in. The money was in €500 notes so it was quite easy to just slip it into his pocket and walk out,” said Alshabbar.
He said that when he reported the matter to hotel management, they discouraged him to approach the police and got aggressive, saying he could sue them if he wanted.
“And sue them we will,” said Alshabbar’s SA attorney, Ian Levitt.
“We’ll be investigating to see who else was involved. We’ll be asking for the footage,” said Levitt.
Choosing to ignore hotel management when they said they would take him to the police station on Monday, Alshabbar said he asked his friend, South African Sam Mia, to call 10111.
“The police were really good. They were here within 15 minutes. They found €500 on the porter and arrested him,” said Alshabbar.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Moses Maphakela confirmed the incident, but declined to give the exact amount of money taken. He confirmed the arrest of the porter and said one other suspect was still on the run.
“We are busy with CCTV footage. We arrested a 24-year-old man at the hotel and found some cash on him. But I can’t disclose the amount. We are searching for the other suspect,” he said.
Alshabbar, who is the Middle East operation director at Wall Street Organisation, an investment banking and financial packaging company, said he would not leave the country “until I get my rights”.
“This can never happen in my country because their hands would be cut off by now.
“We’ve got people from my country sleeping in this hotel. I’m concerned for their safety. We’ve got Qatar Airways people here.
“This is bad for business. We are investors, bringing in billions into South Africa. We have really good relations with South Africa, and incidents like this are unacceptable,” he said.
Muzi Khumalo, 24, appeared in the Alexandra Regional Court on Tuesday in connection with the theft. Magistrate Syta Prinsloo postponed the matter to Thursday for a formal bail application.
Sandton Holiday Inn spokesman Darryl Erasmus confirmed that a hotel guest had reported the theft of “a significant sum of money” from the safe in his room on Saturday. He said the police were immediately informed, and a criminal case had been opened.
“We regret that such an incident has allegedly taken place and are co-operating with the SAPS, who are currently investigating the matter. The Holiday Inn Sandton is taking the matter very seriously.
“The safety, security and well-being of our guests are of utmost priority,” Erasmus said.