PICS: Gauteng cellphone tower battery syndicate bust in KZN
Durban - Private security officers in Verulam, north of Durban, have arrested two men who are believed to part of a major syndicate operating out of Tembisa in Gauteng that target cellphone tower batteries.
Prem Balram, the director at Reaction Unit South Africa (RUSA) said officers arrested the two men on Tuesday following a lengthy search in Temple Valley area near Verulam in Kwazulu-Natal.
"At approximately 07:38, RUSA received a call from an informer reporting suspicious activity at a cellphone tower on Valdin Crescent. Multiple Reaction Officers were dispatched to the call due to an increase in battery theft from cellphone towers," Balram said.
"On arrival, Reaction Officers found a VW Touareg parked in a reverse position and the front gate leading to the tower open. As officers approached three suspects fled into a bush. A lengthy foot chase ensued which ended in one suspect being arrested on Lotus Road and his accomplice on Talwantsingh Road in Temple Valley. The third suspect is still at large. A VW Touareg (with no registration plates) which was one of two vehicles being used to load the stolen batteries was abandoned at the scene. An Isuzu bakkie with NRB registration plates and two other suspects was parked away from the scene and sped off as Reaction Officers approached the tower. One battery was found loaded in the back of the VW Touareg. The Gauteng registration plates were found on the front passenger seat. Several house break-in implements were also recovered," he said.
Balram said that during questioning the suspects said they were from Tembisa in Gauteng.
They apparently arrived in Durban on Monday and booked into a Bed & Breakfast in Inanda.
During their time in Durban they allegedly broke into four cellphone towers on the North Coast of Durban and stole several Lithium Iron battery's valued at R30 000 each.
The batteries belong to MTN.
"One of the suspects claimed to be a waiter and his accomplice a cook at a restaurant in Johannesburg. They stated that they joined the syndicate due to them being unemployed as a result of the lockdown. One of the suspects is a Zimbabwean national. Both suspects were allegedly paid R5 000 each for their roll in the theft," Balram said.
"The two confirmed that the syndicate operate nationally. Suspects have keys to locks and it is believed that some members of the syndicate are contractors tasked with maintaining the towers. Cellphone companies have reported losses of millions of rands on a monthly basis due to the battery theft."
According to MTN the batteries, necessary for keeping operations online during load shedding.
A Business Insider South Africa report stated that 703 batteries were stolen from MTN stations in January 2020 from a total of 122 incidents.
Three suspects, apprehended in October last year in a joint operation between Bidvest Protea Coin and the South African Police Service, were sentenced to between 5 and 10 years in jail on 28 January for tampering with essential infrastructure – a total of eight MTN Lithium Ion Batteries and eight Telkom Lead Acid batteries were recovered,
143 batteries, worth R1.2 million, were recovered in January 2020, while the battle rages on with syndicates targeting base stations in early 2020 as battery theft incidents rise.
A total of 338 batteries worth R4 million stolen from MTN base stations were recovered in July last year, with 275 batteries worth almost R3 million recovered in September.