Johannesburg – They pulled off a massive robbery without a single shot being fired in what is considered to be one of the biggest robberies at OR Tambo International Airport.
However, others believe the robbery could not have taken place without the assistance of airport personnel.
A former head of security at the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), Paul O’Sullivan, claims the robbery was an inside job.
“During my time as head of security, the airport had about 16 000 employees with access permits, making it hard to keep track of all of them to prevent a security breach,” he said.
He was speaking to The Star on the backdrop of a robbery that took place on Tuesday night which saw a gang making its way into the airport and stealing millions in foreign currency.
“There were a number of robberies that took place at airports that are similar to the one that took place, and in most cases, one would find that someone on the inside was involved,” said O’Sullivan.
Security at the airport was beefed up on Wednesday, with private security guards stationed at various sections.
'Daring' #ORTamboRobbery leaves officials dumbfounded
Police presence appeared to have been increased, with officers patrolling the terminals.
Acsa said in a statement that at 7.23pm, a bakkie with what appeared to be police markings pulled up at a restricted access gate, North Gate 1. It was closely followed by a white Ford Focus. Both vehicles had their sirens and blue lights activated. The vehicles were occupied by several armed men, some of whom were in police uniforms.
“When requested to validate their credentials, the men produced firearms, rounded up security staff in the security checkpoint and ordered them to lie on the floor.”
The robbers proceeded to gain access to the air-side of the airport, where they removed an undisclosed amount of money from a sealed container.
No shots were fired and no injuries were reported. The bakkie and the Ford Focus then exited through the same point of entry around 7.45pm.
A caller on 702 radio, who claimed to be an employee of nearly nine years at the airport, said the robbery involved men who drove a white Ford Focus ST and a Mercedes-Benz with police branding on it.
“We thought maybe the president or someone important was being escorted. But what was surprising was that the registration numbers were normal.
“And they were supposed to be escorted by the police,” the caller said.
He said he also suspected that the robbery was an inside job.
“There was no shootout, no nothing. It was quiet. It was suspicious,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Hawks said they were working closely with the police and Acsa to determine how the robbery happened.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said a group of armed robbers, some wearing police uniforms, driving in a marked SAPS Toyota bakkie and a white Mercedes-Benz, held the security personnel at gunpoint and proceeded to the air-side restricted cargo area and damaged the consignment, which contained an undisclosed amount of money.
“The crooks fled the scene with 27 parcels full of foreign currency.”
This is not the first time a heist worth millions was pulled off at the airport.
In March 2006, R100m was stolen in a heist following four months of planning.
Seventeen people were arrested, some of whom were airport staff.
Nine faced prosecution while six were found guilty and jailed for the robbery.
They were sentenced to jail terms ranging from eight to 22 years. – Additional reporting by Ilanit Chernick